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712: How to Turn Pressure into Power with Dane Jensen

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Dane Jensen says: "Pressure is energy. It actually can help."

Dane Jensen shares powerful tactics for staying calm and confident in the face of pressure.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The equation that explains why we feel pressure 
  2. Why time management won’t solve your workload problems
  3. The questions that make us “good at pressure” 

 

About Dane

Dane Jensen is the CEO of Third Factor, an acclaimed speaker, an instructor at Queen’s University and the University of North Carolina, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and the author of The Power of Pressure. 

Dane oversees Third Factor’s delivery of leadership development programs to leading firms across North America including SAP, RBC, Uber, Twitter, the USGA, and others. He teaches in the Full-Time and Executive MBAs at Queen’s Smith School of Business in Canada and is Affiliate Faculty with UNC Executive Development at the Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill. 

In addition to his corporate work, Dane works extensively with athletes, coaches, leaders and Boards across Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic sport system to enhance National competitiveness. He has worked as an advisor to Senior Executives in 23 countries on 5 continents. 

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Dane Jensen Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dane, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Dane Jensen
Hey, thanks so much, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, we’re talking about pressure, so I’m going to put some pressure on you right from the get-go, if I may, and say, Dane, I’d love for you to kick us off with a riveting and instructional story that tees up some of the concepts of your book The Power of Pressure: Why Pressure Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Solution.

Dane Jensen
Yeah, I think one of the beautiful things about how I wrote this book is it was all story-driven. I asked as many interesting people as I could find one question, which is, “What’s the most pressure you’ve ever been under?” And I found out that this question is kind of like a magic portal. Like, on the other side of this question, no matter who you asked this question of, there is a really, really interesting story.

And so, I’ll tell you a story about a woman named Jen, who is a manager at a government agency. And when I asked her about the most pressure she’d ever been under, she flashed back to this period of her career, where she was responsible for planning the communication of an organizational restructuring. And so, two agencies had been merged, everybody kind of knew they were going to be layoffs, there was going to be a restructuring, it had been a couple of months at this time, so nervous anticipation was building. And then, finally, the day arrived, this incredibly well-orchestrated day that Jen and her team had been working on for a couple of months.

And so, Jen’s morning was spent having four one-on-one conversations with people who are being let go, so a pretty tough morning. And then she raced across town to the conference center where they were about to kick off six simultaneous regional meetings where they were going to announce the strategy and the restructuring that was happening.

And so, she parks herself in the biggest region. About half the people are there in person, half of them are joining remotely through Zoom or by phone, and it is one minute to 1:00 p.m. when the meeting is going to kick off, and the AV fails completely. Nobody can dial in, nobody can hear, nobody can see. The regional president looks at Jen, because she’s the person who planned this. She looks around for an AV team, there was no AV team in the room.

She tears out of the room, down the hallway, and she decides to take a shortcut through a stairwell. She gets into the stairwell, the door closes behind her, and she hears a click. She runs over to the door, grabs it, locked. Looks down on her phone, she has no cell service because of the concrete walls. She is locked inside of a fire escape with no cell service and 600 people on the other side who were wondering if they still have jobs.

And I use this as a microcosm of when you ask people what’s the most pressure they’ve ever been under, you get an unbelievable range of life experiences. And so, the first insight for me from this is when you talk to Jen about what the moment was like of peak pressure, when she realized that the meeting was falling apart and she tore out of the room and was running towards the stairwell, she talks about how, and these are her words, “My focus narrowed to the point where I could not see what to do next. It was like my mind was racing but it wasn’t computing anything.”

And I think this, to me, is a wonderful kind of tee up for the problems of pressure. We’re going to talk about why pressure can be the solution but the real problem of pressure is when it gets incredibly intense, it actually shrinks our world dramatically. Our attention starts to tunnel. We can access less of our expertise. We can take in less information from the external environment. And so, this example, for me, really tees up what are we trying to solve for when it comes to pressure.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is powerful. And so, let’s talk about that problem and what it does to us. And you’ve got an interesting equation in terms of importance, uncertainty, and volume are components. How does this work in terms of…? Because I was thinking about your equation as you told that story, it’s like, “Okay, we got some importance. Okay, we got some uncertainty. Okay, we got a lot.” So, what is sort of that perfect storm, it’s like, “Yup, this is what pressure feels like and where it comes from”?

Dane Jensen
And this was the first mission in writing the book, was as I asked more and more people this question, I got totality of life itself back. We had lots of people talking about kind of, I guess, standard pressure moments – so, big presentations, a critical sales meeting, an entrance exam, a job interview – so that kind of stuff definitely came up.

But then we also had stories of people, a guy who went for a swim and, all of a sudden, realized he was too far from shore and the tide was going out, and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get back, people who were carrying demanding jobs while dealing with dying parents. So, one of my first tasks was to kind of look at this incredible range of human experience, and start to go, “Okay, what is similar across these very different experiences?” And I think that’s where the equation came from. It’s to say, “Okay, as different as these things are, when we talk about pressure, all high-pressure situations are characterized by some combination of three things.”

So, the first thing that has to be there for us to feel pressure, as humans, is importance. If what I’m doing doesn’t matter to me, if it’s not important, if the outcome doesn’t matter to me in some way, I’m not going to feel pressure. But importance alone doesn’t create pressure. We also need uncertainty because no matter how much something matters to me, if it’s certain, if the outcome is clear, it’s not really going to create that much pressure.

And so, we really, as human beings, where we start to feel the experience of pressure, which is really an internal experience, it’s a response to an external circumstance, we feel it at that intersection of, “Hey, this really matters to me, and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.” And then volume really is the multiplier. So, it’s like, as human beings, yeah, we’ve had to exist in important and uncertain situations since the dawn of time. In the modern world, I think what creates the grind of pressure is just the sheer volume of tasks and decisions and distractions that kind of surround our important uncertain moments.

And so, these three things can combine in very different ways, Pete. So, Jen’s situation, for me, is a perfect example of what we talked about as peak pressure moments, which are like violent collisions of importance and uncertainty. Like, acutely important, “I’ve been working on this for months, the regional president is looking right at me, this is falling apart,” and tons of uncertainty.

There are other situations, when we talk about the long haul of pressure, or the grind, those tend to be less about like hugely important, highly uncertain, and more just about grinding volume, “I’m just carrying a ton of uncertainty through a long period of time, and it gets really heavy.” And a lot of the stories and experiences I heard from COVID, they tend to fall a little bit more onto that pattern of just constant uncertainty and just grinding volume. But those three things are what kind of combine to create pressure for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, that’s good to know right there. When I think about importance for a while, there are sometimes I feel pressure and it’s because of something is really important to me, and I realize there are many other people for whom this would not be a big deal and would not be important to them but it’s important to me. And it’s almost like I wish I cared less so there’d be less importance and I’d feel less pressure.

And so, Dane, I don’t know, I have a feeling it’s not the solutions you’re going to be putting forward. But I’ve been there, it’s like, “Ah, could I care about this a little bit less so I could feel less pressure?”

Dane Jensen
Yeah. Well, listen, man, I think you’re onto something there. Like, I think what I learned is that everyone of these parts of the equation – importance, uncertainty, and volume – they are all kind of double agents. Pressure itself is kind of a double agent, right? Where do more world records get set than anywhere else in sports? The Olympics, right, because there’s pressure. Pressure is energy. It actually can help and we know that pressure can also be dangerous if it’s left unchecked. It can lead to burnout and stress and all that stuff that we see in the growing conversation of workplace mental health.

So, I think all of these things, what’s interesting about them is it’s a little bit of a matter of dosage. So, importance, just to build off of what you’re talking about, we’ve heard for years, you got to start with why. You got to get really clear on why something matters to you, the purpose behind what you’re doing. And, actually, that is a really important part of the long haul of pressure. If I’m going through the grind of 12 really tough months, or raising a child, like I got to really have a line of sight to, “Why does this matter to me? How is this helping me grow? How is what I’m doing contributing? How is this bringing me closer to people that I care about?” the big stuff.

And, to your point, when we kind of cross from the long haul of pressure into these acute peak pressure moments, actually the issue typically isn’t that, “I don’t have a line of sight to my why. It’s like the why is crushing me. Like, I am just overwhelmed by how important this present…” So, one of the tools that I introduce in the book is this ability to kind of pivot a little bit.

So, if you take a very simple example that, hopefully, some of your listeners can relate to, if I’m prepping for a big presentation, let’s say it’s a sales presentation that I’ve got to give, I actually want to, during the preparation phase, consciously focus on importance. The fact that there’s a commission cheque at stake here, that this could be an input to an early promotion, that this is a good test of my abilities, that I can contribute revenue to the bonus, whatever it is that makes this matter to me.

When I’m about to step into the room and actually deliver that presentation, I have to consciously switch my attentional focus using one question, which is, “What is not at stake for me here? What are the important things in my life that will not change regardless of the outcome of this presentation? I want to focus on the fact that I’m still going to have a job, I’m still going to have the love of my friends and family, my colleagues will still respect me.”

Because those are the things, those unchanging things, that’s what frees me up to perform. If I carry the commission cheque and the early promotion, if I carry all that into the presentation, it’s going to be a disaster. So, you’re absolutely right, there are situations where the real question I want to be focused on is, “What makes this a little less important?” because often we get fixated and we expand the stakes mentally as we’re heading into those moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s beautiful so much there in terms of the distinction between preparation and performance, like play the game a little bit differently. And then we have the choice to dial it up or down in terms of onboard and I don’t feel like preparing well. This commission cheque is at stake. We increase the importance and the pressure, versus, “I’m freaking out a little bit. It’s the big moment.” It’s like we can decrease the importance and pressure, like, “Hey, you know what, my wife and kids aren’t going to leave me. They’ll still be here even if I just scream obscenities at everybody in the room and botch it as badly as one could possibly botch it. My wife and kids will still be there as well my friends.” And so, that is good.

Dane Jensen
And even simple anchors, Pete. I have a vivid memory of a day that I spent in my consulting career, and this is going to sound like a very first-world problem. I was consulting to a company in northern Italy, and I had parked my car outside of the hotel the morning before I had to go give a critical presentation to the senior leadership at this organization. And I woke up the next morning and the entire square outside of my hotel had been converted to a farmer’s market, and every car that had been in the square that night before had been towed.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through the wonderful experience of trying to navigate the Italian auto impound system as somebody who doesn’t speak Italian, but this was not the way I wanted to start my day before a critical presentation to a big client. And the thing that really got me through it was in that moment going, “You know what, one way or another, at 6:00 o’clock tonight, I’m going to be sitting down, eating dinner, and having a cold beer. And nothing that happens in the next three hours is going to change that. It’s going to be 6:00 o’clock, we’re going to eat our meal, we’re going to have a drink, and we’re going to go on with the day.”

And so, I do think, because our attention can run away from us and get so…it’s like a spotlight. What we focus our attention on, it comes right into the foreground and everything else recedes into the background. A lot of this is about consciously directing that spotlight to, “Okay, what are the things that I need to focus on right now that maybe are getting lost in the glare of where my attention is kind of gravitationally getting pulled?”

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, Dane, so much excellence here in terms of what’s not stake in consulting. And that brings me back to some stories where I was new in consulting and making some errors, which was embarrassing for me and the team. And I had an awesome manager who was sharing some perspectives in terms of like, “Hey, well, it’s just work and nobody’s dying. But, yeah, you’ve made some mistakes that kind of hurt our credibility there and so we got to get a plan.”

And so, I appreciated that perspective, like that’s what happened. I was new, I made some mistakes, but no one was dead, which is not true of some professions. You make mistakes, people may die. But I make mistakes in my spreadsheet and it’s just a little annoying and embarrassing.

Dane Jensen
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. So, we talked about when you feel the pressure, your mind can run away from you, you can narrow your focus. And some tools there, we talked about dialing up or down the importance via thinking about what’s at stake, what’s not at stake. Any tips on how we move the levers of uncertainty and volume?

Dane Jensen
Yeah. And I think your tee up here, which is, “Hey, it’s just PowerPoint. There are some situations where the stakes are life and death.” And that’s often a question that I get when I talk about importance kind of as a standalone topic, it’s like, “Well, what if it really is a life-and-death situation? Is it really going to work to think about what’s not at stake here?” And the answer is, “Not really.”

I think of the equation kind of like a bag of golf clubs or a set of chef’s knives. If you are truly in a high-pressure situation where lives are at stake, you’re probably going to want to focus less on importance and more on uncertainty. Because uncertainty, as human beings, we experience uncertainty in a very similar fashion to physical pain. And Olivia Fox Cabane wrote about this in her great book, The Charisma Myth, that the brain, actually, similar parts of the brain light up under uncertainty as they do under physical pain.

And so, if you look at kind of the evolutionary biology of all of this, the human beings who craved uncertainty, who heard the kind of rustle in the bushes, and were like, “Huh, wonder what that is?” And, yeah, they didn’t tend to do too well. So, most of us are not particularly comfortable with uncertainty. And so, when we are in these peak pressure moments, similar to importance, in peak pressure, the goal with uncertainty is quite straightforward. It’s we want to redirect our attention from what we can’t control to what we can control, and begin to act as soon as humanly possible. Because the second we start to act on uncertainty, the second we start to make progress, that’s when the pressure from uncertainty begins to abate.

And this really got landed for me. I heard a wonderful metaphor from a guy named Martin Reader, who’s an Olympic beach volleyball player. He represented Canada in the 2016 Rio Games. And he talked about how when you’re playing beach volleyball, there is so much that is out of your control. The opponents are out of your control, the officials are out of your control, the crowd is out of your control, the weather is out of your control. You’re literally standing on shifting sands, which is kind of a metaphor for uncertainty, but also a literal thing.

And he said, “The one thing that you can control in volleyball is the serve. When you are standing behind the service line and you have the ball, that’s the one time that you’re in control.” And so, he tells a story about when they had to qualify for the 2016 games, they knew they were going to have to go into Mexico and beat the Mexican team in order to qualify.

And he said, “We knew this was going to be really tough because the Mexican team was a good team. It was going to be a really hostile crowd, which sometimes influences the officiating.” And so, he said, “For six months, my partner and I, we practiced this very non-traditional serve.” And he said, “At a critical moment in the third game, I moved to this complete other spot on the service line, and I served the ball they had no idea was coming for an ace, and that really punched our ticket to Rio, to the Olympics.”

And so, he said, “Since that moment, whenever I find myself in a situation where things are really out of my control, I ask myself, ‘What’s your serve? What is your serve in this situation?’” And, again, I talked about the spotlight and redirecting attention, this, to me, is another one of those great attentional anchors, to go, “Hey, with everything else that’s out of my control, what is my serve in this situation?” And I think one of the things we want to recognize is no matter what the situation is, you might ask yourself that question, go, “I got no serve. This whole thing is out of my control.” There are a couple of things that we always have control over, that are permanent serves for us as human beings.

So, one of them is breathing. No matter what situation you’re in, breathing is a serve. When I start to get my physiology under control, when I move my breathing down into my diaphragm, when I slow it down to five to six breaths a minute, that’s a way that I can start to access certainty and control. You can’t have a racing mind with a calm body. If you can get your body under control, it’s very hard to have a racing mind.

The second thing that we always have control over, that can always be a serve, is perspective. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, he talked about having, through his time in the Nazi concentration camps, the Nazis could take pretty much everything. They could take food. They could take clothing. They could take shelter. He said, “The one thing they couldn’t take was my ability to choose to see what I was going through as a meaningful experience.” And he talked about that as the last human freedom. That ability to choose how we are going to look at what we’re going through, that’s another serve that we always have. That’s always within our control. That’s always something that we can act on.

And so, routine is another one. You look at people in sports, before a tennis player serves the ball, what do they do? They have a constant routine that allows them to exert control. So, I do think, when it comes to uncertainty, A, the question, “What’s my serve?” but then, B, having a couple of kind of go-to serves, so to speak, where you go, “These are the things that I’m going to do that are going to serve as beachheads of control under peak pressure,” that can really pay dividends when you’re walking into high-stake situations.

Pete Mockaitis
Dane, that is powerful stuff in terms of, that question, “What is my serve?” I think when you really visualize that in terms of, “Literally, what is the equivalent of a ball in my hand that I have the choice of what to do with right now?” that’s huge. And so, your choices in terms of how you interpret and view things, how you breathe, that’s excellent. So, let’s hear about volume then.

Dane Jensen
Yeah. So, volume is an interesting one because it’s easy to react in a way that seems like it’s going to help that actually ends up hurting – and that’s time management. I think when volume is the dominant thing creating pressure, and I think, frankly, for many of us, volume is the dominant thing creating pressure. When I talk to people in organizations, I do a lot of workshops on this stuff, and one of the questions we’ll ask is, “Okay, what are the things right now that are taking away the fun, keeping you rushing, causing you anxiety?” And, inevitably, the answer is some version of “Not enough time,” or, “Too many priorities,” which are kind of just flipsides of the same thing.

And so, I think when volume is creating pressure, it kind of makes intuitive sense to turn to time management, it’s like, “Okay, the issue is I’ve got too much stuff to do. The solution is I need to become more efficient and get it done. That’s how I’m going to make progress. That’s how I’m going to start to exert control and tamp down uncertainty.” The challenge with time management is that time management is a trap. If you think about people who get really good at time management, what do they get? Do get more volume or less volume? They get more volume.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, because they’re entrusted with, “Hey, great job, Dane. You really crushed that. Here are some more stuff for you.”

Dane Jensen
Most of us are working in organizations where if you do a really good job, it’s like, “You know what, we’re going to be so efficient that we can shrink our meetings from an hour and a half to an hour. That’s going to open up 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. on my calendar.” The second 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. opens up on your calendar, what happens? Someone is like, boom, calendar invite, like, “I noticed you have a free hour from 1:00 to 2:00. It’d be great if you could join this project kickoff.” It’s like putting up a signal flare that’s like, “Hey, I have some free time.”

And so, the example I always use is there’s this wonderful Dilbert cartoon where Catbert, the consultant, is talking to the manager, the boss, and he says, “Hey, how do you guys reward your high-performers around here?” And the boss says, “Oh, we load them up with work until they become average performers.” And, to me, that’s time management. It’s like digging a hole in the beach. The bigger the hole you dig, the more water is going to rush in there to fill it.

And this is not to crap on time management. Time management is a really important productivity tool but it’s not a solution to pressure, and those are two different things. Time management absolutely helps with productivity, but it doesn’t alleviate pressure because it just allows you to get more done. It actually allows you to increase the volume that you’re kind of faced with.

And so, when we talk about volume, there’s really two imperatives that I kind of start to dig into. The first is, listen, if we are going to choose a high-pressure life, which I suspect most people listening, if you’ve taken the time to opt into a podcast like this one, you are choosing a high-performing life, and that’s going to be accompanied by volume. And so, we have to take care of the physical platform that allows us to handle a high-volume life: that’s sleep, that’s nutrition, that’s movement. So, that stuff has to be there so that we’re not just exhausted all the time.

But the flipside to that is, instead of just managing our time to try to accommodate everything, we have to get ruthless at how we are using that capacity. And that means really hitting the root causes of volume, which are, “What are the tasks that we permit? What are the decisions that we are making on a routine or regular basis? And what are the distractions that are taking us away from the volume that we really should be focused on?”

And so, when I think about productive strategies that actually get at the root causes of volume, they are strategies to hold the line on tasks, “What am I saying yes and no to?”; there are strategies that eliminate decisions, “How do I create rules, principles, that eliminate the number of decisions, or minimize the number of decisions that I have to make on a daily basis?”; and, “How do I put structure in place that is going to allow me to avoid distractions?”

So, those are kind of the core three, and we can dig into any one of those three that you want, but those, to me, are kind of the root of, “How do we actually manage volume as opposed to just accommodate it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I like that that is a nice set of tools that seem to sort of cover the gamut pretty nicely. Boy, we could have a whole episode on them. But maybe give me your favorite tactic amongst those three, like, “This is game-changing and pretty easy for people.”

Dane Jensen
let’s talk about tasks. And, listen, there’s two reasons that we overwhelm ourselves with tasks, and it really kind of depends on your span of control in the organization. We can overwhelm ourselves with tasks because of tasks we take on ourselves. So, we’re just over-optimistic about what we can accomplish, and so we kind of opt in or we kind of seek out more than we can handle, and that starts to create pressure. We can also accumulate too many tasks because they’re imposed upon us, we get assigned them by our managers or our bosses.

And so, for each of those two streams, and it’s not a binary thing. Usually, it’s some combination of those two. There’s a tactic that I think is worth exploring and trying. So, the first is if you are the kind of person that is just over-optimistic and opts into too many things, I am a huge believer in calendar blocking. And I just think, the fact that we have, all of us, simultaneously a calendar and a to-do list, creates a lot of the challenges that get people to take on too much. Because we look at our calendars, and we go, “Oh, yeah, I have space from 1:00 to 2:00 tomorrow.” But the issue is that our calendars really only show the commitments that we’ve made that involve other people.

The to-do list is basically a parallel calendar, it is a parallel set of commitments to our time, they just happen to not involve other people. It’s work that we need to process independently. And so, I think if you fall into that camp of constantly opting into stuff, and then going, “Oh, crap. Like, I got to get this done on a weekend,” you want to merge your calendar and your to-do list. Like, find time on your calendar for every item on your to-do list, and actually block it so that you have a real representation of all of the things that have a claim on your time before you start making decisions around what else you can take on because, otherwise, you’re just deluding yourselves. And I think that’s where the kind of over-optimism comes from.

So, that, to me, is one very practical way to start to get a more real view of, “What are the tasks that I actually have room to accommodate?” If the tasks are being imposed on you, if it’s more a case of just somebody else, like, “I need this. And I need it by Monday,” I think it’s really uncomfortable for most people, in particular, folks that are a little more junior in organizations, to just say, “Listen, I can’t do that. Like, I don’t have enough time to do that.” That’s often something seen as career-limiting. It’s a little bit of an uncomfortable conversation.

And so, my recommendation on that one is take that out of the binary world of like, “I can do this,” or, “I can’t do it,” and start to use those as jumping off points to have prioritization conversations, “Okay, so you need me to pull this deck together for Monday. All right. Here are the other two things that are on my plate for Monday. Where do you want me to rank this one? Is this the most important of those three? Is this in the middle?”

And we’re not having a kind of like “Me versus you” conversation, where like, “You’re asking me to do something and I’m saying, ‘No, I can’t do it.’” Now, we’re having a conversation together around, “What’s the order that I should be thinking about these things in? What are the ones that are more important or less important?” So, those are kind of two separate roads, I guess, of kind of the same outcome but a little bit different context.

Pete Mockaitis
And I don’t want to roleplay this for too long, Dane, but if you’ll indulge me just a smidge. So, if you have that conversation with a manager, director, VP, whomever, someone more senior, and they give you an unsatisfying response of, “Well, hey, they’re all important. They all need to get done,” what do you do then?

Dane Jensen
And I think this is where we want to be polite, be persistent, it’s like, “Totally agree. Okay, so which one should I do first?” or, “Where do you want me to start?” And I think the ability to continue to have the discussion, “Listen, I have to pick one to do first, and I have to pick one to do last,” that’s where we want to keep driving the nail in.

And, actually, this has come up a few times where people are like, “Well, my manager just won’t have those conversations.” Like, I keep getting responses, like, “Everything is important.” And this is where I think a big part of managing pressure is my ability to come face to face with my own personal power, my ability to connect with self-efficacy, that I have the ability to choose what I am going to tolerate, what I am not going to tolerate.

I think if you have a manager who repeatedly, over time, just says, “Everything is important, and you need to get it all done,” that, to me, is a signal that if you have a good relationship with that person, now is the time for some upward feedback, which is, “Let’s have a conversation around what I really need from you as a manager in order to perform at a high level.” And if that continues, like, to me, who on earth wants to work for someone who refuses to have a productive conversation with them about what’s most important around here?

So, I really do think that the end of that conversation, for me, is like, over time, I have a boss who refuses to help me prioritize my work, get out of dodge. Like, find a better place to work. Find a better manager. That sounds flippant, but I genuinely think that that should be a very basic expectation of a leader, that they can do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And you’re right, and I think like there may be rare moments where it’s true, everything is important and everything is urgent at the same time. And I think a great manager would be like, “Dane, I’m sorry. This is a terrible week and, unfortunately, it seems like what’s going to be necessary is that you work until midnight several days in a row. It’s unfortunate that we’re here now but we are, and I’d like to figure out how to get you some time off in the next week to make up for it. But, darn it, this is what the reality is on this particular week.” I think that both things can be true, that everything must be done, and your manager could be cool and humane about the implications of that.

Dane Jensen
Listen, I think that’s a great point, Pete. There are busy periods in every job. If it’s tax season, and you’re an accountant, like, legally, everything has to get done by a certain date. It’s not like there’s a lot of wiggle room there. We got to do everybody’s taxes by the time they need to file them. So, I totally agree with you, and I think the main thing for me is it becomes a conversation.

So, what I liked about you just laid out there is, “I’m having a discussion as a manager to paint a really clear picture here of this is a period in time in which we’re going to be asking a lot of you. Here are the commitments that I’m making around that, that this is going to be time-bound, that I’m going to work with you productively to find some time to recover, and that I see and appreciate the extra effort that you’re putting in here. It actually matters.”

That, to me, is very different than a leader who simply says, like, “Everything is important. Get it all done on Monday and have it on my desk.” So, I totally agree that those things can co-exist, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so while we’re talking still on the managing pressure, if it’s, I guess, maybe the problem side of things, if you will. You have a very compelling teaser bullet for your book, “We can reduce tension, sleep better, and have more energy so that you can meet challenges head-on.” It sounds like we’ve figured out a few levers for some of that. But, tell me, any other pro tips on the sleeping better and enhancing energy side of things?

Dane Jensen
Yeah, I think the…and this comes from the subtitle of the book, which is, “Why Pressure Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Solution.” I think the thing that we want to recognize about pressure is that, really, pressure is just a word that we use to label a ball of energy. Pressure is energy. When you look at, physiologically, what happens to our body under pressure – it’s adrenaline, it’s cortisol, it’s muscle tension, it’s faster blood flow, more oxygen. Like, it’s just energy.

And I think that energy can be productive if it’s channeled appropriately. Certainly, many of us who have had kids, what is it that allows you to be an empathetic and patient human being on no sleep when you feel like you’re screwing everything up? It’s the energy that accompanies the pressure that you feel. And so, I think pressure can be a source of energy if it is channeled appropriately.

And so, if we look at a lot of the tactics that we’ve been talking about, it’s like, “Okay, how do I take this kind of raw seething energy and actually use it in a direction that is a little bit more productive?” And I’ll tell you, when it comes to the sleep part, so sleep better, I do think because pressure is energy, if we are carrying a ton of that around, it does make the sleep thing a little bit more difficult. And so, our ability to pulse to kind of channel and allow the energy from pressure to help us perform, but then to be able to get into a state where the energy dissipates, I think that’s really important.

And this, to me, goes to the flipside of what we were talking about with uncertainty. So, we talked a lot in uncertainty around, “How do I take direct action to eliminate uncertainty?” That’s the whole notion of finding your serve. I actually think one of the failure modes that high-performers get into is because direct action can be so effective in peak pressure moments, it becomes the default mode of action. We try to just take action on everything. And one of the certainties of life is that we cannot eliminate all uncertainty. We are all on our way to both triumphs and tragedies and everything in between that we cannot foresee, we cannot predict, we cannot prevent.

And so, a big part of the sleep better at night for me is we got to recognize, when it comes to uncertainty, that, yes, we need to act to tame uncertainty where we can, we also have to be able to get to a place where we can embrace the uncertainty that we can’t tame. And for that, that’s really a bit of a mindset thing. And it’s a mindset, as I talk to people that are really good at this, who just seem to be able to come to peace with the fact that there is uncertainty, it’s really about cultivating two things.

The first is, “I have to get to a place where I accept that the future is both unknown and unknowable. I have to get to a place where I can accept that I cannot control the future no matter how hard I try.” And, actually, a lot of the stories that I heard from high-performers were like about bitter battles that eventually reconcile with them, realize that they couldn’t control everything.

But paired with that belief is it almost feels like a bit of a paradox but we have to pair that belief that the future is uncertain and unknowable with the belief that everything will work out as it should in the end. And that belief is really about having a patient faith in the future. And I think it’s that one in particular that, A, is harder to get to in a period like COVID, and, B, is the one that actually allows you, if you go right back to the question, that’s what allows me to get to sleep at night, is I can get genuinely to a place where I go, “At the end of the day, things will work out.”

And I think that the critical distinction here, for me, on this one, and I get pushed a lot on this one, both by people who read early drafts of the book and people whose opinion I really trust, who said, “Listen, things don’t always work out.” And that’s true. There are lots of situations where we don’t get the Hollywood redemptive ending, we don’t get the outcome that we wanted, and, yet, I talked to hundreds of people about the most pressure they’ve ever been under, and without fail, they talk about how the situations worked out.

They talked about the fact that they learned something about themselves that was really useful later on. They built confidence that they never had before. It forced them to make a tough decision that they’ve been delaying. It brought them closer to other people. It uncovered an inner strength that they weren’t aware of. Like, they inevitably talk about how, even if it didn’t go the way they expected, it worked out.

And so, I think the really important part for me here is we have to get to a place where we don’t lose faith that things will work out in the end, while being open to being surprised by how they work out. Like, opening ourselves up to the fact that they might work out a little bit differently. And so, I think that that’s what makes uncertainty so challenging, Pete, is it’s this double-edged sword of, “I got to find my serve and act aggressively where I can to limit uncertainty, and I’ve got to get to this place where I go, ‘I can’t control everything and that’s okay because it’s going to work out the way it should in the end.’” That’s where the ability to kind of sleep a little better at night comes from.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you. That’s powerful stuff. And, now, I would like to hear, when it comes to pressure being the solution, you mentioned more records are broken at the Olympics than anywhere else and you said it’s because of the pressure. You actually worked with Olympians so you would know. I guess, my first thought was, “Was it because of the pressure or was it because they’ve precisely timed their training to peak at this moment when the gold is on the line?” And so, I guess there’s probably both are drivers. But, tell us, how can we, in a pressure-filled moment, do extraordinary exceptional things above and beyond what we’re capable of during normal circumstances?

Dane Jensen
Yeah, I think you kind of got there. It is a bit of an and. I think when you’re trying to be the absolute best in history at something, it has to be a combination of both, “I have trained in a way that I am going to be at my peak when it matters most, and I have to be able to take advantage of the energy that is going to accompany performing on the Olympic stage. It is just a different thing than other stages. There is a different level of scrutiny. There’s a different level of importance. There is a different level of volume.”

So, when you talk to elite athletes, they will talk about the pressure that accompanies an Olympic performance. And I think this is one of the misconceptions that some people have about pressure, which is that getting “good at pressure” is about eliminating that feeling of profound discomfort that accompanies pressure. That’s not the case. You talk to anybody, I don’t care who they are, they will tell you that this stuff is unbelievably uncomfortable.

Wayne Halliwell, who’s a great sport psych up in Canada here, he talks about this notion that it’s not about getting rid of the butterflies. It’s about getting them to fly in formation. Pressure is uncomfortable. When we are in peak pressure moments, it is not a place that is particularly enjoyable. So many Olympians I talked to will talk about the 10 minutes, the 30 minutes before they’re going, “Why do I do this? Why do I put myself through this?” Like, they’re fantasizing about just escaping from the pool.

It’s an uncomfortable experience and the energy that makes it so uncomfortable, “If I can get control over how am I framing this from an important perspective? Am I able to both see that this matters to me and recognize that this isn’t a referendum on my life? Like, this doesn’t determine whether I’m a failure as a person or not. Can I take direct action? Do I feel like I’ve done everything I can to control what I can control? And have I got myself to a place where I can accept that there is uncertainty that I can’t tame, that I might fall, that a competitor might just happen to peak that day?”

“And if I ruthlessly control the volume that could distract me from my performance, have I cleared out all the distractions that could take me away from…? When I’ve done those three things, that’s what gets me in a position where the butterflies can fly in formation. I still feel that way but I go in with confidence as opposed to overwhelm,” and that’s when things kind of click when we listen to people describe those experiences.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And so then, if we’re not getting on an Olympic stage, but we’re feeling the pressure, are there any particular actions or practices or reframes that are super effective in terms of accessing the superpowers?

Dane Jensen
So, I said a little earlier, the attention is like a spotlight. I think the best way to think about getting good at pressure is to think about attentional control, which is, at the end of the day, my ability to direct that spotlight, to not have the spotlight just direct me, like I’m just kind of beholden to whatever kind of catches my attention, and I can’t act on it, when we train that ability to direct the spotlight of our attention, that’s when we start getting good at pressure.

And, as we discussed, sometimes that is about I got to put the spotlight on, “Why does this really matter to me?” Other times I got to direct the spotlight to, “What’s actually not important about this to me?” Sometimes I got to direct the spotlight to, “What can I control? What’s my serve?” Other times, I got to direct the spotlight to, “What is the uncertainty that I can’t tame, and the fact that, at the end of the day, this is going to work out?”

So, that attentional control is really at the heart of this for me. And the best way to redirect the spotlight is questions. Questions are attentional anchors. So, peppered throughout the book are just, “What are the questions that I’ve heard from people that really work for me but also work for others?” So, those are questions like, “What’s not at stake? What’s my serve in this situation? What’s my average? What can I count on here?”

We want to have our own bank of, “What are the little attentional cues that work for me personally to direct that spotlight in a way that’s productive, to get me anchored on something that’s going to actually help under pressure, as oppose to lead me down the garden path?” And so, my most kind of practical advice for listeners is to start to know, use the ones that I’ve kind of just said as a starter list, but gather the questions as you go that help you when you’re moving into your peak pressure moments, because those questions are like little nuggets of gold. The little attentional anchors that put you at your best, those are the things that you want to carry and start to embed in your routines as you’re heading into high-pressure situations.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. I love those questions and the notion of training the ability to direct the spotlight of your attention, and questions are huge for that. Some of my other favorites are, “What’s great about this? And what’s one thing I can do to make this better?” We had Dr. Ellen Reed talk about relentless solution focus with that kind of question, and it’s beautiful.
And, also, the phrase training the ability to direct the spotlight of your attention. That sounds like what mindfulness meditation practices do. Any thoughts on those?

Dane Jensen
Yeah, 100%. I think mindfulness meditation is like going to the gym. Every time your attention wanders and you bring it back to center, you’re practicing attentional control. So yeah, absolutely. That is a very related practice and it’s one that can 100% enhance your ability to do this under pressure.

Pete Mockaitis
So much good stuff. Thank you Dane.

638: How to Build Unhackable Focus with Kary Oberbrunner

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Kary Oberbrunner says: "The victor, the one that is unhackable, says, 'I happen to the world.'"

Kary Oberbrunner shares expert strategies for bringing your attention back to what matters most.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The wrong and right ways of dealing with task overload 
  2. The three components of deliberate magnetic focus 
  3. The two triggers of flow state

About Kary

Kary Oberbrunner is CEO of Igniting Souls. Through his writing, speaking, and coaching, he helps individuals and organizations clarify who they are, why they’re here, and where they should invest their time and energy.  

Kary struggled to find his own distinct voice and passion. As a young man, he suffered from severe stuttering, depression, and self-injury. Today a transformed man, Kary equips people to experience Unhackability in work and life and share their message with the world. He believes the most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. His vision is to ignite 100 million souls by 2030. 

Kary lives in Ohio with his wife, Kelly, and three children: Keegan, Isabel, and Addison. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Kary Oberbrunner Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Kary, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Kary Oberbrunner
It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I‘m excited to dig into so much of what you’ve got to say. First of all, though, I want to hear about your connection to the Shawshank Redemption movie.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yes, that is a fun tip. So, I was in a day job for a long time and it felt like a prison, and I remember watching Shawshank one evening, thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I relate to that.” So, quick story, basically, I was writing on the side and I finally did get out of that day job, and I said, “You know what, lots of people are asking me, “How?” so I’m going to write a book called Day Job to Dream Job. And the Shawshank prison is the day job. Zihuatanejo, where eventually, Andy goes at the end of the movie is the dream job, and I’m going to write the book.

And so, I started Googling where the heck was Shawshank prison. And I’m not from Ohio originally but it was The Ohio State Reformatory, and I said, “Man, I’m driving 90 minutes up to nowhere.” I found it and, basically, told the workers what I was doing and that I wanted to write a book in Andy’s prison cell on Day Job to Dream Job, and they’re like, “Sweet! Here’s the wi-fi password.”

And so, I ended up writing a good amount of the book in Shawshank prison. And then, a year later when we launched it, they heard about the story, the celebrities came back, and, sure enough, the warden, Bob Gunton, we launched Day Job to Dream Job at Shawshank prison together.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild. Well, so…

Kary Oberbrunner
It’s pretty crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
“So, I want to work out of a prison cell,” and they’re like, “Yeah, you got it.” So, there’s no fees or protocols. It’s just like, “Yeah, sure thing,” but…

Kary Oberbrunner
Exactly. Well, it’s no longer like a functioning prison. It’s more of a museum now but, evidently, they trusted me. And now I actually train their board of directors once a year on leadership, so it’s a crazy full circle.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild. Well, I’m excited to talk about one of your latest works, Unhackable. Great title. What would you say is perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made about us, humans, and how we pay attention these days when putting together the book?

Kary Oberbrunner
I’ll tell you what, I wrote a fiction book called the Elixir Project in 2016 about a future society where people’s brains get hacked, and that was my first stab at fiction. And when the book came out, people said, “Man, this is not just a fiction book. Like, this is happening.”

And so, they kind of said, “Turn this into a nonfiction book for people in the workforce, in business.” And so, basically, I did a ton of research and found out that a hack is basically when someone or something gains unauthorized access to a system or a computer. And think back to biology class, and sure enough, we were made up of pulmonary, circulatory, respiratory system so our bodies are like systems and our brains are like supercomputers. So, in a real way, humans are getting hacked anytime we get distracted from our ultimate destiny, our dream. And the distractions are crazy big these days, and I’m sure we’ll get into it. It’s a pretty fun topic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, unauthorized access, that’s sticking with me here.

Kary Oberbrunner
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that almost implies a hacker or a…Actually, I love the podcast the Darknet Diaries, it’s all about hackers.

Kary Oberbrunner
Sweet.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what do they call it, a threat actor, I think is the term they use a lot, whether that’s a nation or a company or an individual, kid in the basement. A threat actor is kind of getting unauthorized access into our heads, but sometimes it’s us.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what’s a universe of threat actors that are kind of the big culprits of hacking our systems?

Kary Oberbrunner
It can be a lot of things. Unsexy hacks are just laziness or Netflix or these types of things, but, in a real way, the human species is now wired to crave distractions. We know from all the psychology that distractions produce a break from stress, and we know that smartphones create dopamine and addictions. So, I’m all for technology; I love technology.

However, human knowledge, once doubled every thousand years, so think about that. It took, essentially, from the years zero to 1500 to double human knowledge. And then the next time was 250 years, and it kept going and going. And, now, we live in a world today where every 12 hours human knowledge is doubling, and so we can no longer keep up.

Our ancestors made a handful of decisions a day back not too long ago. Today, we make 35,000 decisions. And so, we literally wake up with this limited attention, and throughout the day we dip into that and we create what’s called decision fatigue so that, at the end of the day, we’re saying things like, “I’m burnt out. I’m running on fumes. I’m on empty.” And, in a real way, we can no longer keep up with the amount of stress and distractions that are in front of us today.

Pete Mockaitis
When we talk about human knowledge doubling, is that kind of like the printing press or like unique content published? Is that what you mean by knowledge?

Kary Oberbrunner
Everyone has become a publisher. Everyone has become a content creator. We used to have gatekeepers where you would try to get a record out, you would try to get your thoughts out and be printed in the paper. We now have YouTube. We all are our own TV station, press release system, newspaper. We’re literally producing mountains and mountains of information not to mention computing, AI, I mean, you name it. It’s just an exponential curve.

And our brains haven’t upgraded. So, technology has upgraded but our brains have not. And not only that, Pete, but we now have new terms. Digiphrenia. So, schizophrenia was multiple personalities, this type of thing. Well, digiphrenia is a legit term that basically means that we exist in multiple places at once in the digital space.

So, most people have a Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, and so now, not only am I existing right now, Pete, but online I have a persona that’s existing that may be getting tweets and maybe getting comments. Not only that but you have the stress of trying to be consistent on all platforms at once. And so, there’s a tearing of the mind that happens. It’s literally a stress.

And not only that, the average person touch, clicks, taps, swipes their smartphone 2600 times a day according to dscout. We now have five hours a day but this is on screens, but it’s in 30-second bursts, so, not to mention COVID and kids now doing online school. Again, technology is not the enemy, but I’m saying technology used to be a tool that we used. Now, we’re the tool that technology is using.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s heavy stuff.

Kary Oberbrunner
It is heavy. It’s kind of like The Matrix, only real.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned psychological research. Could you share some striking stories or studies or evidence, bits, that kind of lay out – well, you dropped the numbers already, which is intriguing – in terms of like the state of play right now? And then what’s really possible if we take on some practices to become unhackable?

Kary Oberbrunner
Absolutely. So, right now, we have so many things going at us that a lot of us have adapted the lie of multitasking. And people get confused about multitasking, they say, “Surely, I can mow the lawn and listen to an audiobook. See, that’s multitasking.” Multitasking, we’re actually talking about doing two cognitive things at the same time. And so, therefore, it’d be like me trying to do a podcast with you right now and checking email and check my Instagram. When we do that, it’s not multitasking; it’s switch-tasking, our IQ drops 40 points, so it’s literally like being stoned.

And so, most of us, throughout the day, let’s be honest, we walk through the day stoned. And we do what’s called attention residue where part of my brain is still on the Instagram, part of my brain is on the email, part of my brain is with you. And not only is that productivity destruction but it’s relationship destruction. There’s a new term now called fobbing, not snobbing, where you’re trying to talk to me and I’m blowing you off or whatever, you’re blowing me off.

Now, when we’re talking with people, we’re looking at our smartphones. And this presence of relationship is now a thing of the past, and you can tell. I’ve got to do business on Zoom. You can tell when someone is watching or you can tell when someone is checking something else and something else, and it’s literally redefining the way we do relationships.

Kary Oberbrunner
But there is good news. There is good news.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us then, sort of, ultimately, how do we become unhackable?

Kary Oberbrunner
How do we become unhackable? I love it. So, here’s the thing, in the book, I break down unhackability into three things. I’ll give you the three easy-to-remember words and then we’ll bump it out a little bit. But it’s literally idea, focus, and flow. That’s what unhackability is: idea, focus, and flow. Notice it’s knowing, being, and doing.

So, to stress that a little bit more, it’s flawless idea anatomy, so we talk about, “How do you create flawless ideas?” and there’s four components. Then we go into deliberate magnetic focus, and there’s three focus filters. We’ll get into that. And then optimal human performance – flow. And so, certainly people will have read books or heard books on just flow, like Steven Kotler is kind of the grandfather of flow; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist. There’s been books on flow, there’s been books on focus, and then there’s been books on ideas, but, truly, an unhackable person is one who leverages all three.

And I’ll tell you why this is so important, because, as kids, we grow up saying a weird word; we said, “Abracadabra” anytime we wanted something magical to happen. We didn’t know what the word meant but we said it. The word actually means “I create as I speak.” I create as I speak. People who have faith, very interesting, it even gets crazier. It’s made up of three Hebrew words. Abba, which is father, and so it’s Father-Son-Spirit, Abracadabra. Really crazy interesting stuff.

In the faith tradition, it says that “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” In other words, Abracadabra. I believe that we’ve been created to dream and do, ideate and implement, and that is our divine destiny. And when we’re doing that, we’re actually living out our calling. But, unfortunately, most of us dream, then we get hacked. We ideate, and then we get hacked; we don’t implement.

So, to your point, let’s talk about focus filters. Yeah, focus filters is one component of how to become unhackable. I, basically, break down focus filters into three of them: urgency, agency, and energy. So, most people, your great listeners, they probably have a dream, they probably have a desire, but, unfortunately, we always get hacked until we apply those focus filters: urgency, agency, and energy.

So, just to give you an example, it’s a beach example. If I go out to the beach, I got a bald head, I can burn in about three hours, or I can burn in about three minutes. What’s the difference? A magnifying glass.

Pete Mockaitis
Ah, sunscreen.

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah, that’s right. A magnifying glass. So, same sun, same skin, but a magnifying glass, or what I call a focus filter, it amplifies the energy. So, it takes all that energy from the sun and puts it into a laser beam where you burn a whole into your skin. Or, in the metaphor we’re using, you burn a whole into your dream. You take that dream that you have where you keep getting hacked, and you, essentially, narrow your focus.
Urgency is that focus filter. So, what I mean by that is we need a deadline. Every dream needs a deadline. And think back to school days, Pete, remember when the professor assigned something on day one? When did most people actually do the assignment?

Pete Mockaitis
The night before.

Kary Oberbrunner
The night, Pete, you nailed it. A deadline amplified the energy. In other words, it said, “We’re going to get so focused. We’re going to get laser-focused.” Why? Because there’s a cost. If you don’t complete the assignment you get a bad grade. Well, what I’ve realized is that urgency is one of these amazing things, just like physical healthcare, what makes it super important? You put the word urgent in front of it. Urgent care. Now, all of a sudden, you get rushed, you get seen fast. Why? Because there’s a cost. Most of us do not have a cost attached to our dream, or a deadline. Those two components – deadlines and costs – make urgency work for us and become unhackable.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m intrigued then, I think of deadlines, they are often associated with other people in terms of it’s like closing a house or whatever. It’s sort of like the lawyers, the realtor, the somebody said, “This is when this has to be in.” And so, when you think about our own dreams, how do we effectively harness a deadline so that there does seem like there’s a real cost? Like, if I do some work on a project tomorrow, I could do it the next day or the day after. How do I get urgency to be real and the cost to be real?

Kary Oberbrunner
Just to give you some client examples, I had one client who kept blowing off his weight dream, like, “I want to get down to a certain weight. I want to get down to a certain weight,” and he just struggled and struggled and struggled. Finally, he said, “Okay, I’m going to put a real cost behind this.” And I won’t tell you which political party he hates but he hates a certain political party so much that he said, “I will write out a check right now for $1,000 to the political party that I hate. I will put it in an envelope, I will put a stamp on it, and it will sit on my desk, and if I do not lose…” and this guy was a pretty big dude, “…if I did not lose 50 pounds by this day, that check is in the mail.”

I’ll tell you what, first time in his life he ever did it. He lost the weight because it, suddenly, was a real cost, which not just was a $1,000 but a “$1,000 to a political system that I do not like,” it was big enough. And I don’t know what people’s cost is but it needs to hurt. In other words, Pete, it needs to hurt so much that doing the dream is easier than paying the cost.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. There’s an episode of Nathan For You, it’s a comedy show, it’s kind of ridiculous that kind of explored this concept. You might enjoy that episode if you haven’t seen it.

Kary Oberbrunner
I might. I might, after you quote that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s intriguing. And I wonder if people are like, “Oh, I wouldn’t trust myself to actually do it.” I mean, you could sort of entrust that with a friend who happens to have the opposite political party affiliation.

Kary Oberbrunner
He did. He did. He told me.

Pete Mockaitis
And they’ll be eager to give it to that side. But then, also, they’re your friend so they’re not going to just sort of make a $1,000 of yours disappear without your consent.

Kary Oberbrunner
Exactly. Exactly. But that’s one example. But here’s another thing, Pete, it really becomes a mindset change. Unhackable people are victors, and hacked people are victims. And this is not my own but I love it, it’s a great illustration. Victims say, “The world happens to me.” Now, I’m not talking about victims of trauma or this type of thing, but I’m saying a victim mindset. So, a victim says, “The world happens to me.” And what happens is they often lie in bed – blame, excuses, and denial.

The victor, the one who’s unhackable, says, “I happen to the world.” These are people that put their quote “Oar in the water,” O-A-R, ownership, accountability, and responsibility. So, they literally take accountability for their lives. They literally are responsible. They take ownership. It’s not just a nice acronym. This is the difference between Capt. Sully on the flight. He didn’t ask the Canada geese to hit the propeller, but when Jeff, his copilot, was flying the plane, Sully said the magic words, “My plane.” And Jeff said, “Your plane.”

In other words, he took ownership, accountability, and responsibility. He took over that bird strike because he was unhackable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so that’s one way to make a deadline real. Let’s hit the agency and the energy. How do we crank that up?

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah. Agency, I’ll give you an example. When I get my oil changed at the dealer, I suddenly walk into their agency. Let me explain.

Chairs, magazines, Donahue is on the TV, or something crazy. In other words, I walk into their space and it’s their agency. Many people have that reality. In other words, no judgment, but when I fly on an airplane and look to the person next to me, they’re bored as heck, they’re flipping through the magazine, they’re busting out their phone.

Listen, if you got a dream, you’re not chilling like that. And I’m not saying you always got to be working, but I’m saying that, in the book we talk about what’s called your boon. Your boon is your deepest desire, your greatest ache, your truest longing. It comes from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Luke Skywalker, Neo, Katniss Everdeen, Hunger Games, Star Wars, you name it, Matrix. The hero’s journey is all about leaving the ordinary world, meeting a mentor, refusing the call, going into this special world, facing the giant, we think it’s external, it’s really ourselves or the ones who hack ourselves most of the time. But then, after we defeat the giant, we essentially get the boon. The boon is the holy grail. The boon is the elixir.

Let me say this, Pete. We don’t care if we get hacked until we know our boon. So, in other words, when I don’t know my boon, I’m like, “Hey, come on, Netflix, come on, XBOX, come on, all distractions in the world. What’s going on, on TV?” In other words, I actually purposely try to distract myself because it gives me this pseudo-purpose. But a someone who knows their boon, man, they are fighting for that. And that’s what really kicks us into unhackability, is knowing our boon.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so how do you recommend we get some clarity and specificity on our boon, our deepest desire and calling and such?

Kary Oberbrunner
Well, I do have a free download, no email opt-in required. It’s at UnhackableBook.com, and if they click Resources, there’s 83 questions that gets you started, and these questions are fun. One question is, “What’s one thing you would regret not doing before you die?” It’s deep questions. It’s questions that you don’t just address every single day, but these are deep questions.

And what we begin to see is this melody line. It often doesn’t come just in one lightning bolt. It often comes with, I say, dream recovery, not dream discovery. In other words, your show is great and it probably talks about how we need to recover our dream. In other words, if you ask most kids, I’ve never met a young kid who said, when you ask them, “What do you want to be when you get older?” “Oh, I don’t know. I have no clue.”

I think we are born with this innate sense, maybe not exactly, but in the ballpark. Like, some people just say, “I know I was born to be on the stage.” Now, they might’ve thought the stage was one thing. Or, “I was born to always care for animals.” We lose sight of who we are along the way because we start listening to the voices of others. In other words, other people’s advice hacks us, “Pete, you won’t make money out of that,” or, “That’s not a well-paying job,” or, “That’s not a respectable job.” And, suddenly, we start listening, and that’s another way that we allow other people to gain unauthorized access to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, 83 questions, we can do some exploration, reflection, rediscovery there. And then how about energy?

Kary Oberbrunner
I think clarity…

Pete Mockaitis
What was that?

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yeah, yeah. I was just going to say clarity comes with action. I think that we don’t just sit in a room and wait for the clarity to come. A lot of times we have to work it out, we have to try, we have to experiment. But back to your phrase about energy. Energy is that last focus filter. And energy is super cool, super exciting.

Are you familiar with Twenty One Pilots? Have you ever heard of them? A band?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know.

Kary Oberbrunner
Okay. So, it’s a band, and there’s tons of bands out there so I don’t expect you to know, but the Twenty One Pilots are a band, and I’m just going to use…I like to tell stories to make a point. They come from my hometown Columbus, and they won a Grammy. But, well before they won a Grammy, nobody knew about them. And what’s interesting is you can actually go on YouTube and you can find one of their very first concerts, and it’s pitiful. There’s 12 people and it’s in a basement.

And the craziest thing in the world is that the lead singer is so enthusiastic. Oh, my gosh, like the guy is on fire, and you’re kind of like, “What the heck, man? There’s 12 people in the basement.” He had what’s called an enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the word entheos, God within. This is part of becoming unhackable.

What gets you on a bigger stage is enthusiasm. Most people say to the universe, they say, “Once I’m on a bigger stage…” “Once I have a big platform…” “Once I have a big show…” “Once I have a big business, then I’ll be enthusiastic.” No, no, no, you have enthusiasm, and that’s what gets you on the bigger stage. So, just like you, Pete, just like me, I mean, you’re successful, I’m successful. Why? Because we treated those first five listeners like rock stars. We didn’t say, “Hey, I’m going to overlook those first five listeners. And, some day, when I have a big tribe, a big showing…” No, no, no, this is what unhackable takes. It takes that energy where energy is E-motion. Energy in motion.

Like passion. I love the word passion. I’m into words. I’m a word nerd. But the word passion, very interesting. The ancients define passion not by how much love you had, but by how much you’re willing to suffer. So, that’s why I never understood, “Why was it called ‘The Passion of the Christ’? and there was talk about a cross? What the heck?” It’s because He was willing to suffer for it.

And so, I just want to challenge your listeners. Your boon is something you’re willing to suffer for. I mean, you look at any great person, they had to suffer for their dream and it had a cost. And so, energy is that focus filter where that’s what really helps us become unhackable when we focus urgency, energy, and agency.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the energy is comparable to passion and the willingness to suffer? Is that the key there? And then, I suppose, we get that by successfully tapping into the boon.

Kary Oberbrunner
Absolutely. It comes with clarity. Like, Rosa Parks, she was unhackable, man. Like, you look at her, she says, “I’m not getting up off this seat. Like, I’m not going to,” and she suffered for it. There’s people all throughout history that suffered for their dream. And being unhackable, let’s face it, choosing not to binge on Netflix every day when it’s in front of you, that takes some suffering. Whatever your dream is, we can go through the list, but whether it’s physical, spiritual, mental, relational, this type of unhackability does require a suffering.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so in your book you talk about a 30-day elixir. And so, we’ve talked about a number of things that are important along the way. So, can you maybe share what are some particular real practices or interventions that help us get to, let’s say, the superhuman focus?

Kary Oberbrunner
Yeah. So, here’s an example for Day 17. So, right now, there’s a lot of open loops inside your brain and mine. These could be open loops, like, right now, mine is, “Call the plumber because we got a leak upstairs.” It could be, “Mulch the yard.” It could be, “Mail the letter.” It could be, “Buy the birthday gift.” In other words, most of us have this subconscious program that’s running all the time in the background.

Now, we don’t think about it but just like your computer has multiple tabs on it, the more programs, the more browsers, the more tabs, the more time and energy sucked, the RAM goes down. Actually, the available RAM goes down because the RAM you’re using, it goes up. And what I’m saying is that any open loop, any indecision that you and I have, is grinding on our productivity.

So, one of the exercises I have people do, my clients, I say, “Grab a stack of Post-it notes and, literally, write down one per, one task, one open loop, per Post-it note.” And so, what people do is they begin to lay out all these Post-it notes on their desk everything that we just talked about, all the open loops, all the undecided things, because it’s literally leaking their lifeforce, it’s leaking their energy. They’re getting hacked by it.

These are the things we get up in the middle of the night and say, “Oh, my gosh, I forgot to get the dog immunized,” or whatever. Then what we do is we write on a piece of paper, “Do, delegate, and dump.” So, I encourage people to do this, like, literally in their house – do, delegate, and dump. You don’t put delay. Delay is what we always think about, “Ah, I’ll just delay it. I’ll just delay it.” Do means you’re going to do it, delegate means someone else is going to do it, and dump means no one is going to do it.

And what we do is we do this on purpose, this exercise, because what it does is it clears the mind. It literally frees up your RAM. In the book, we talk about the unhackable impact equation. And, sure enough, when you go through this exercise, you begin to free up your brain, and you allow it to have more usefulness for what you’re boon is rather than chewing up all these open loops. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it’s the act of categorizing these that unleashes it or do we actually have to get them all done?

Kary Oberbrunner
First of all, by seeing them written down automatically takes them from being internal to external. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed and I don’t even know why I feel overwhelmed. I’m just like, “Oh, my gosh, there’s a lot to do.” And if you actually slow down and say, “Well, what are those things to do?” this is the exercise. We stop, we slow down, and we allow ourselves to unload this, first of all. It goes from internal to external. Now, I’m looking at it.

The moment something is external, now I can make a decision. The word decide is a Latin word caedere. It has the same suffix as suicide, pesticide, insecticide, genocide, homicide. Decide means to cut off and kill. And so, what does a gardener do to a tree that’s unhealthy with sap going into all of its branches? He cuts them off. He prunes them. In other words, that’s what we’re doing. We’re deciding that, “I’m going to do it.” Or, we’re deciding that someone else is going to do it, delegation. Or, we’re deciding that no one is going to do it, dumping. And you, literally, open up your subconscious mind to focus on your boon. It’s a very cleansing process.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is nice and I’ve done variants of it and it sure does feel great. Let’s hear a piece about flow.

Kary Oberbrunner
Oh, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
How do you recommend or what are the sort of your top perspectives on how to get more flow flowing?

Kary Oberbrunner
Flow is amazing. Flow is the optimal state of human performance. It’s the place we all must be in to win a gold medal, but not only that. For those of us who aren’t athletes, it’s where productivity skyrockets up to 500%. It’s where we begin to see pattern recognition. It’s called lateral thinking. So, how do we get into flow? There are flow triggers.

One of the flow triggers, believe it or not, is a deadline. Another flow trigger is novelty. Interesting, novelty. So, what that means is that when we are stuck in a rut, we go through the same route every single day, with the same menu, and the same restaurant, and we sit in the same table. What happens is we begin to go on autopilot. And when we’re on autopilot, the brain is an energy hog and it wants to essentially map out everything through our day so it can conserve energy.

When you are on autopilot, you don’t experience flow. So, how do you interrupt the autopilot? By novelty, by doing things, by going places, by having experiences that you’ve never had before, because the brain has to engage, because there’s an element of surprise, there’s an element of unpredictability. And so, many times people feel in flow when they go travel somewhere.

And so, Pete, to get really philosophical here, we’re in a pandemic. There’s a lot of people that haven’t been able to travel. They’re not experiencing novelty. What’s the result? They’re getting hacked. And then what else is happening? Not to be a downer, but mental health. And in Japan, a few months ago, more people died of suicide than all of COVID the whole year in one month. Why? Because all of this relates.

In other words, unhackable people are people who have flawless idea anatomy, deliberate magnetic focus, optimal human performance. And one of the byproducts is that we get neurochemicals. And so, the neurochemicals are endorphins and norepinephrine and anandamide. All these neurochemicals that are supposed to be happening in our brain don’t happen when we’re not in flow, and that’s why depression is on the rise.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, noted and, yet, there are some simple thing that we can do to fix that.

Kary Oberbrunner
Exercise, yeah, all kinds of good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, why don’t you give us the quick bulleted list here? Exercise. What else?

Kary Oberbrunner
So, exercise, sleep, okay? When we starve our brains of sleep, I mean, I get it, but we’re actually not allowing, just like back in the day, all day, I’m older than you, a long time ago, but defragging your computer. Literally, the brain repairs itself in sleep. Margin, where you’re not just blowing out your adrenal glands and cortisol. Eating the right way. Think about it. We call it carb crashes, sugar rushes, caffeine fixes. All of these are essentially altering the chemistry to create a certain type of feeling. Well, we can do that naturally. Community. Having good discussions where time seems to go by like that. Why? Because you’re in flow. And when you’re in flow, there is a time dilation that occurs where it either slows down or speeds up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Kary Oberbrunner
I’ll tell you what, I mean, I think people’s eyes are open now. More and more my clients are saying, “Man, I got hacked last weekend.” And people who don’t know the vocab, they’re like, “What? What do you mean you got hacked?” They’re now aware of it. So, awareness is really the first step. Just, for all the listeners to realize, like, “When did you get hacked? When did you just blow through five hours and you don’t even remember what you did? But you scrolled, these types of things.” And we do have an unhackability assessment. Again, all my stuff to help is free in this area because I just have a passion. I believe that when we are living our calling, when we’re fully alive, that’s our greatest contribution.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kary Oberbrunner
Carl Jung said, “What’s the most damaging thing in the life of a child? it’s the unlived life of the parent.” And that’s a negative, but I view that as a very inspirational quote because it makes me want to live the lived life not the unlived life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Kary Oberbrunner
The current one that I’m digging is, believe it or not, The Psychology of Money. I just finished that. I like it. It reframes the way we think of money.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Kary Oberbrunner
Audiobooks, man. I love them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Kary Oberbrunner
My Peloton.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And is there a key nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate and folks quote back to you frequently?

Kary Oberbrunner
“Show up filled up.” It basically means that you are doing the work internally before you ever step foot into the world every single day, and you attract people, you get clients. Why? Because they’re like, “Something is different about this person.” You show up filled up.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Kary Oberbrunner
I would say go to UnhackableBook.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Kary Oberbrunner
I’d say, look, even if you’re not in the right job, your ultimate calling, don’t waste the time. Back to our original thing with Shawshank and Andy, that dude didn’t just sit in prison. He was very resourceful, digging a hole on the side of the prison. So, I just want to encourage people, like, whether you’re in the right job or the wrong job, be all there because it matters.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kary, thanks for sharing the good word. I wish you many, many fun unhackable adventures.

Kary Oberbrunner
Thanks for the amazing interview, Pete.

632: How to Reclaim 40 Hours Every Month (WITHOUT Multitasking!) with Dave Crenshaw

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Dave Crenshaw says: "The holy grail of productivity is increasing how much you're worth per hour."

Dave Crenshaw shares hard-hitting research on the perils of multitasking—and how to improve your focus.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The right and the wrong way to “multitask” 
  2. Why we love to switch tasks—and how we can break that habit 
  3. How a 2% increase in productivity makes all the difference 

About Dave

Dave Crenshaw develops productive leaders in Fortune 500 companies, universities, and organizations of every size. He has appeared in Time magazine, USA Today, FastCompany, and the BBC News. His courses on LinkedIn Learning have been viewed tens of millions of times. His five books have been published in eight languages, the most popular of which is The Myth of Multitasking—a time management bestseller. As an author, speaker, and online instructor, Dave has transformed the lives and careers of hundreds of thousands around the world.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

David Crenshaw Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, thanks so much for joining us again on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Dave Crenshaw
Hey, I’m thrilled to be back, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, last time we talked about having fun and how that’s super important. And I tell you what, your words come back to me frequently when I’m like having fun in the middle of a work day on a break, I was like, “Is this appropriate?” It’s like, “Dave said it’s going to make me better,” so thank you.

Dave Crenshaw
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell me, how are you having fun these days?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, I take July and December off now every year.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Well done.

Dave Crenshaw
So, I just came off of a nice long December break, spent some time hanging out with the kids, I may or may not have played a little too much XBOX so I’m feeling good. I’m feeling rested and ready to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Did you get the new XBOX?

Dave Crenshaw
I did.

Pete Mockaitis
I did, too.

Dave Crenshaw
I made that a priority.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, kudos. Those were hard to snag for a little while there. Well, let’s talk about multitasking. So, you’ve got your second edition here coming out The Myth of Multitasking. I want to really dig deep into this. First of all, what’s the big idea here? What is the myth of multitasking?

Dave Crenshaw
The myth of multitasking is that multitasking simply does not exist, not in the way that people think about it. The word is an inelegant and improper word to describe various things that could be happening. So, what I cover in the book is helping people understand what really is occurring in their day when they try to do multiple things at the same time, and identify whether they’re being productive when they do it, or whether they’re really screwing things up while they’re attempting it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love the way you teed that up because it sounds like there’s some nuance and some distinguishing to be done which is why I wanted to have this conversation with you because that’s kind of come up before a bit but I think we can drill really deep here. So, if multitasking isn’t the appropriate term, what alternatives do you think we might and should be using?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. So, what I present in the book is that one of two things are happening. Either you are switch-tasking or you are back-tasking. Switch-tasking is when you’re switching attention. You’re switching between listening to this podcast and answering an email, you’re switching between having a conversation with someone at work and thinking about the unresolved laundry that you left at your house, and every time you switch your attention from one thing to something else, you pay a cost associated with that. So, switch-tasking is always ineffective and we can go more into depth on that.

The other is back-tasking. That’s where something mindless, mundane, or automatic is occurring in the background. For instance, I’m listening to this podcast while I’m exercising, right? Hopefully, at this point, I don’t have to pay attention to how I run on the treadmill. I can focus on Pete talking. And that can be productive. The problem is, first of all, most people are using one word to describe multiple options, so they say multitasking, and we create a lot of confusion when people use that word. And when people say they’re a good multitasker, most often they’re talking about switch-tasking. And saying that you’re a good switch-tasker is like saying, “I’m excellent at screwing up multiple things at the same time.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ooh, strong words. So, that seems to be the core distinction. So, back-tasking means something is so automatic it can be done in the background and requires no attention and, thusly, we’re pretty much only really doing one thing as far as our attention is concerned.

Dave Crenshaw
Correct. And that also includes things like starting the printer, printing a job, delegating a task to a coworker. Basically, something else is occurring that doesn’t require any effort from you, that can be productive and that should be encouraged but that’s not what most people are doing. You see how people are behaving in the workplace and in their day, especially now that so many people are working from home. And what are they doing? They’re constantly switch-tasking and they’re telling themselves, “I’m multitasking. I’m being productive,” but what’s really happening is things are taking longer, they’re making more mistakes, and they’re increasing their stress levels.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I like the term back-tasking, I think that’s short for background, things happening as you’re tasking. And, indeed, when you mentioned the printer, I think that’s a great example because sometimes I feel euphoric. There’s a strong word. But if I have, let’s say, I’ve got some dishes being cleaned by the dishwasher, I got clothes being cleaned by the washing machine, I’ve got a vacuum robot going, and I’m doing something else, I mean, that’s like nirvana for me in a productivity nerd kind of a way.

Dave Crenshaw
And you even have your podcast working for you. Wow!

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, people are listening.

Dave Crenshaw
You’ve got a podcast working for you right now while we’re recording this podcast so that’s effective back-tasking.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s totally true. Thousands of listeners as I sleep. I get a kick out of it when I see people, like sometimes I’ll refresh and I see downloads happening like at late night, like on a holiday or something.

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, we got to talk about that. That’s a different issue altogether.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, I shouldn’t be refreshing my podcast stats on a holiday?

Dave Crenshaw
Correct. Yes, that’s something else. That’s switch-tasking on your holiday. See, it is back-tasking because it’s taking care of it, but the moment you jump in and start looking at it, now you’re switch-tasking.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess fair enough. I’m just going to let that go. It’s not about me. It’s about the listeners. Okay, cool. So, the book, it’s on its second edition here. Are there new discoveries that you’ve made associated with multitasking? Lay it on us.

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. Well, okay, so the book first came out in 2008, and you think about where we were and what we were doing in 2008. Something like a Twitter was just barely starting to surface at that time. And, in fact, this shows how dated the original version was. The original version had a BlackBerry on the cover, right? And now you think about how powerful the phones are that we use.

One of my favorite comedians, Gary Gulman, says calling an iPhone a phone is like calling a Lexus convertible a cup holder. And we’ve got these devices that are constantly vying for our attention and then, on top of it in the workplace, since we’re talking about how to be awesome at your job, in a work context, there are so many different channels of communication that people are using. They’re using Slack, they’re using text message, they’re using Skype, they’re using Zoom. And so, when we have all these channels of communication, we’re creating lots and lots of different ways that we could switch-task in our day.

So, I had to make some updates and some adjustments to address, in particular, that issue; the channels of communication. A lot of other things are still the same. The tendency that we have to have a conversation with a human being while we’re tempted to look at our phone, that’s always been there. It’s just maybe a little stronger than it used to be. So, some things have changed radically and some things have stayed the same or just gotten more intense in their impact in our day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now let’s really zoom in on the comment associated with if someone says they’re really good at multitasking, they’re really good at screwing up multiple things at the same time. So, all right, lay it on us, many people really do think they’re good at multitasking. Are you going to tell them their own experience is wrong? Dave, how do you counter that?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, honestly, the best way that I have to counter it, and it’s not going to work well in a podcast, but I can tell people where they can get it and, of course, it’s in the book. There’s an exercise that I do. I do it in my live presentations, I do it in the book, and if you go to DaveCrenshaw.com/exercise, you can find it. And I do an exercise in the book where, first, someone performs a task. It’s just simple; just copying numbers and letters, right? And they focus on that for 30 seconds and they do it and they see how long it takes. And then we do it again, but this time we switch-task.
So, for instance, if I was just doing the alphabet, I would write A and then I would write 1 and then I’d write B and then I’d write 2. And that simple exercise does far more to convince someone than me rumbling on for 30 minutes about the scientific studies, and there’s a mountain of scientific evidence that shows that it’s less effective. But when you get someone to experience firsthand how much they screw things up doing the most simple thing in the world, it opens people’s eyes. The truth is right in front of them and they can’t hide from it.

And what you’ll see is, first of all, everything takes longer and the mistakes, people start just writing weird numbers and letters, and they’re crossing things out, and they’re going up and down, and their work just goes all over the place, and then how they feel, the stress impact of that. And when you experience it that firsthand, it opens your eyes, and then you start thinking about what your work day is like, and why at the end of the day you feel so stressed out, and why you feel like you didn’t really accomplish anything that whole day. And it’s simply because you were switching rapidly throughout the day between all these different activities.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I have seen one of your videos in which you did that exercise, and it is…you’re right, seeing is believing in terms of like you feel it. So, folks might counter that by saying, “Well, you know, I never really actually have to list the letters and the numbers in order while alternating.” So, can you drop some additional sort of research studies in terms of like maybe just how can we convincingly, compellingly prove that this is a big deal? It’s not like you’re, I don’t know, 3% less effective but rather massively less effective when you multitask.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Okay. So, just a few things to consider. There’s a study by RescueTime that found that the average number of minutes a worker can go until checking their email or instant messages, so that’s excluding all the other things like other people interrupting them, six minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Dave Crenshaw
Every six minutes, on average, someone checks their email or instant message. Then you consider that there’s a cost associated with that. It’s not just the check, right? You got to look at it and then you’ve got to remember, “Where was I?” I could be in the middle of writing an email, and then another email comes in or a text message, so I stop. I look at the text message, I read it, I go, “Okay.” And they’re asking these questions, I say, “All right,” I type back the answer “42,” I send it back. Now, what do I need to do? Now I have to return to the email I was writing, I have to re-read everything that I was doing, I have to get my train of thought back to that frame of reference, and then I can start working again.

Another study out Michigan State found that just under a three-second interruption doubles the likelihood of making a mistake. Just three seconds. And this is an impact that everyone is experiencing constantly. That’s why I paraphrase Mark Twain, and I say, “There are lies, damned lies in multitasking,” because it’s a lie that everyone lives. We live it constantly throughout our day. And the beautiful thing though is if you can reduce it, that’s really where the evidence comes from, is when you start to cut down on the switches and you start to feel sanity return to your day. And you start to realize, “Wait a minute. I can get done everything that I was getting done in about a quarter less time.”

I had clients who go through my training and I’ll tell them, “When you go through this training, you’re going to recover about 40 hours every single month,” and they think that’s insane, that’s an unbelievable claim, and I used to hear it coming out of my mouth and say it’s an unbelievable claim. But I have had people literally tell me, Pete, they say, “I thought you were crazy. Now, it’s 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, I don’t know what to do with myself.” And it’s simply by reducing one thing. By reducing the switches that take place in your day, you reclaim that much time.

Pete Mockaitis
That is striking. Well, maybe could you share with us maybe a particular success story, that 3:00 p.m., that drive it home in terms of it being real in terms of really painting a picture for what was this person’s life and work like before, what did they start doing differently, and then what results did they see from that?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, in that case, and I don’t have direct permission from this individual to use his name.

Pete Mockaitis
Call him Hank.

Dave Crenshaw
Okay, yeah. Hank, a real estate professional, very well-respected, successful in his industry, but just burning the candle on both ends, working long hours, feeling stressed out constantly, and that’s why he brought me in was to help him. And this was back when I did it in person. Now, my training is on LinkedIn Learning, which you’re very familiar with. But he brought me in to help him with this, and what we did is we started to look at how many different interruptions he was getting in his day, and we were saying, “Okay, which of these are absolutely necessary?” because you can’t get rid of all switches. I never make that claim and no one should ever think that that’s what I’m saying.

But what you can do is you can implement strategies to reduce the number of switches. “Which of these interruptions can wait? Rather than leaving my phone on 24/7 and setting the expectation I’m going to answer every time you call, what if I checked my messages every hour on the hour?” When we think about that, especially like in a real estate business, that reduces the number of switches by an order of magnitude. That would cut it down by 50% or more the number of interruptions that are taking place in your hour. He said, “Rather than checking email constantly,” that’s what most people do, right? Either their phone notifies them or they’re constantly hitting send and receive sitting at their desktop computer.

And if instead, if we say, “Here is a scheduled time in my day, three times in my day when I’m going to check my email,” that kind of stuff cuts down. And so, it was little strategies like that that I implemented with him that’s just stacked on top of each other and helped him realize, “Wait a minute. I can perform much more productively if I start to emphasize my ability to focus.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s exciting. So, let’s hit the word cost for me here. You say when we do a switch, we incur a cost. Tell me, what are the types of costs and just how costly is it?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
We heard about making more mistakes and taking longer. Do we have any quantifications on any of that?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, the quantification really depends upon the individual. Some people pay less cost than others.

Pete Mockaitis
Bargain shoppers.

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, yeah, yeah. And there’s a question that often gets brought up about the statement that women can multitask and men can’t, right? And there have been studies into this. Some will say there’s no difference at all. I’ve seen some that say less. I have consulted a lot of female executives, business owners, and what I would say from my experience is that women do incur less switching cost than men do, but there’s a problem with that statement. They’re still incurring switching costs.

And what is that cost? Yeah, what is the cost? It’s the amount of time to recover; the mental recovery time. Sometimes even the physical recovery time of locating the thing that you set down and forgot where it was. There are a handful of costs that we incur every time we switch our attention. And this is a funny thing, and this shouldn’t surprise you as someone who wrote the book called The Power of Having Fun.

Occasionally, I’ll recommend that people practice learning how to focus simply by just watching a show on Netflix but doing nothing else. And as I say that statement, I know that there’s probably half your audience that feels tension at the thought of that, right?

Pete Mockaitis
No snacks, no bathroom, no…?

Dave Crenshaw
Okay, bathroom, we’ll let that go.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you can do that before or after the show, I think.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, exactly. But what about not media multitasking? What about not looking at your phone while you’re doing it? What about not looking up on IMDB, “Who’s that actor that I’ve seen before, while I’m watching it?” Our brains have become so conditioned and hardwired to jump from task to task, from thought to thought, that we are creating a situation where we are perpetuating switch-tasking in everything that we do. And so, there’s that other part of it which is the amount of time that we gain but it’s also the amount of stress that we relieve when we stop behaving like we’re a CPU that’s being overclocked.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, any sense for how many minutes that is? I heard one study, I think it was from Microsoft, that when you entertain an email interruption, it can take like 24 minutes to get back to what you were doing.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that valid or are there other stuff in that ballpark? I imagine, you said it does vary from person to person, but I would just love it if there’s anyone on the fence, we can just nail them with a number.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, yeah, I’ve seen that study from Microsoft. It’s pretty old and I see that it still gets cited. One thing to keep in mind with that study is they’re talking about software programmers. So, it’s the amount of time that a programmer took to recover, and that is extremely high for an intense task like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you’re deep into it.

Dave Crenshaw
I can tell you, like the U of U, University of Utah, they have a great department by David Strayer where they do a lot of studies. They found that just issuing a voice command to a car while you’re driving, it can take 27 seconds to regain your attention. So, the answer to that, I wish I could give you a hard number but I can’t because it varies according to the individual and it varies according to the task that they’re performing, both the switch that occurred and the thing that they were doing before.

But I can tell you that BaseX research did a study a while back, and I still find this number to be pretty accurate, which is that the average knowledge worker loses 28% of their day due to interruptions and the recovery time associated with those interruptions. I would say that it’s probably closer to over 30% at this point just based on my field experience.

So, again, we go back to that question, if you reduce the switches, you can reclaim 40 hours every single month. That is an entire work week every single month. Where does that come from? It’s the reduction of switching costs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Powerful stuff. So, then, okay, first of all, why do we do this to ourselves then? I think some people even know it’s destructive and we continue to do it. It’s almost like it feels good or we just got a curiosity that we want to scratch. What’s going on inside our brains?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, an example of that is if you haven’t seen the documentary on The Social Dilemma, that is extremely eye-opening. And it talks about how even some of the things that we use, like the social media, are deliberately created to be compulsive and to feel that we must do them.

So, part of it is the ghost in the machine, is “What’s been created that’s doing this?” And part of it though is just human behavior. There’s a psychological concept called variable reward ratio. And it’s the same thing that drives compulsive gambling. It’s the same thing that drives people pulling the lever or pushing the button on the slot machine. And the idea is that sometimes you’re going to get a payoff and sometimes you aren’t, and that is very attractive to the human mind. We like the randomness of it and so it becomes…we want to keep pushing the button, “Am I going to get the jackpot?”

Well, what’s the equivalent in our work day? “I’m going to hit send and receive. Maybe someone is going to say yes to my proposal. Maybe I’m going to get something from a Nigerian prince that’s going to make me millions of dollars.” Whatever it is, we know that it’s not going to pay off most of the time, but the fact that it might pay off is enticing. The fact that you might see that you got a whole bunch of new subscribers to your podcast, going back to that example, right?

So, we have to start conditioning ourselves to be okay with silence, to be okay with not getting an answer. And there’s another concept that I teach elsewhere where I talk about the missing minute and restoring that minute to your day. Meaning, giving yourself just 60 seconds for nothing. I guarantee, people are going to listen to this podcast, they’re going to get done with the podcast, and they’re going to do one of two things. They’re either going to jump back to work or they’re going to click the button and go to the next thing.

Now, that’s great for you to get views but it’s not necessarily serving them as much as it could be if they just stopped, set a timer for 60 seconds, and just sat with it. Just tell the brain, “It’s okay. It’s okay that you’re doing nothing right now.” And the more that you create little pockets like that in your day, the more you start to realize, “I am in control.” And you can retake that control 60 seconds at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
That is inspiring. Well, Dave, perfect transition. I think we’ve built a real good why, so let’s really rip into the how.

Dave Crenshaw
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
What are some of the top sort of high-impact, high-leverage practices we can engage in to help us reclaim control here? So, one of them is taking a 60-second breather to do nothing. I love it. What else?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. By the way, I like to think of these, I call these switch busters. I like the show MythBusters. I know it hasn’t been around. It’s not for a while.

Pete Mockaitis
Somehow it just seems up your alley. I don’t know you super well, Dave, but it just seems right when you say that.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. So, these are little things that you can do to reduce the number of switches in your day. No one of them alone is going to solve the problem but all of them, together, start to really build a nice big strategy for reducing switches. So, yeah, we’ve talked about that. I also mentioned about setting a schedule for when you’re going to check your email. In that case, if someone is taking six minutes, every six minutes they’re checking their email, their instant messages, even if we can cut that down to every hour on the hour, we’ve reduced the number of switches that you’re making by 60% or more. We’re making a big, big drop.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s like 70 a day, nine eliminated times eight hours. There you go.

Dave Crenshaw
There you go. Yeah, so now we just do it eight times a day. Or even better, what about three? What about the beginning, lunch, and the end of the day? What if it’s less than that? And only someone listening to this can answer that question for themselves because every industry is different. But the question you would ask yourself is, “How long can I reasonably go? What is the longest that I can go without damaging my career, without making things hard on my customers and my coworkers? What’s the longest I can go?” And whatever that is, create a schedule and start using that schedule.

And I’m going to pause for a second and teach a different principle that’s really important, which is there’s no such thing as a perfect system; there’s only the next draft. Meaning, just try something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, don’t try to make it perfect. Just try something, give it a go, and then make an adjustment after a week or two, and then tweak it again. Maybe you went to three times a day and that was not enough. So, maybe you go to four times a day or something like that. If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean that the principle is broken. It just means that your system needs a little bit of adjusting.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I love to get your view, right now, I’m thinking of a lawyer friend of mine. I think we talked about something like this once, and he said, “Yeah, that’s really just not an option for me to ignore the partner’s email to me, an associate, for a full day.” And so, I guess your response will be, “Well, hey, maybe it’s a half a day or a quarter of a day or an hour, but it’s something other than nonstop checking.” Any pro tips on how we can sort of help shape our environment in terms of like the people and the messaging we convey to them?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, so that’s another switch buster. In fact, that’s the one that I really key in on the second edition, which is having a conversation about channels. One problem that we run into in a variety of areas at work is the assumption of common sense, and we believe that everyone should have common sense, but common sense is not common. Common sense is the result of repeated life experience. The easiest example of that is it is common sense me, being an American, that cars belong on the right side of the road, right?

Pete Mockaitis
But of course.

Dave Crenshaw
But it is common sense for someone in the UK that they belong on the left. And that is simply because that’s what we’ve seen our entire life. So, then we go into the work environment, and let’s just say that we’re using something like Slack to communicate with each other. What is the shared common sense of how much time we should allow until we respond to something? What is the shared common sense of how much time we should allow for an email response? Or what about a text message?

So, you have a discussion with your team and you just list out each of the channels: text messages, email, Slack, whatever it is you’re using, phone calls. “Let’s get together, let’s have a conversation, let’s agree, how long can we wait? And what should these channels be used for? Can we say that text messages are the back channel, that they’re for emergencies only? So, we know if someone sends a text message, it needs to be done within the next several minutes. But we don’t put anything into that channel that isn’t an emergency.”

And you have a conversation about what is an emergency. A lot of the stuff that you have at work is not an emergency; it’s just an impatience-y.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And your point on common sense there, it’s so compelling because people have wildly different expectations. And this comes up, I’ve facilitated a few training sessions in which we have a norms discussion around email, and it’s just wild. Some people are like, “Oh, you don’t need me to reply within an hour? Oh, wow!” And it’s just sort of lightbulbs go off. It’s like some of the easiest result I can deliver in a training, frankly, to just have that conversation.

Dave Crenshaw
And they do it themselves which is great.

Pete Mockaitis
And then, likewise, I remember back when I was single and had some dating activity going on, I remember, through a friend of a friend, someone said, “Well, Pete Mockaitis is a real jerk.” And I thought, “Uh-oh. Did I not communicate that I’m like seeing other people? I thought I made that clear.” And then apparently the reason I was a jerk was because I never replied to a text message for about four hours. And it’s like, sometimes I won’t reply to my mom’s text messages for like 12 hours because I have all my notifications off, and my phone is off to the side, and I’m in a good work groove, and that’s just sort of how I operate. But there is no common sense. It’s all just sort of the expectations you mutually agree upon with the people you interact with.

Dave Crenshaw
Right. And that illustrates, too, that it’s not just your team members. You can have those conversations with your customers. There’s nothing wrong with educating your customers, saying, “Hey, if you need to get me for a normal thing, send me an email. I’ll respond within a business day. If you have some catastrophic problem, here’s my phone number. Use it for that.”

So, you can have these negotiations, this training, whatever you want to think of it, that we all get on the same page as much as is possible. And, again, will that get rid of all switches? No. But will it greatly reduce the switches? Yes. And what it will do is it will help us move from the culture of now to the culture of when.

The culture of now says, “At work, when I have a question, I want an answer now. I’m going to knock on your door,” or at least we used to when we weren’t working from home, “I’m going to knock on your door, I’m going to send you a text message, I’m going to give you a phone call, and if you don’t answer any of those, I’m going to keep doing it until I get an answer.” This just perpetuates switch-tasking in our day.

If you move to the culture of when, you say, “I will respond to everything, and this is when I’m going to do it. This is when you can expect a response.” And that one thing alone dramatically saves time and reduces mistakes and helps everybody feel less stressed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Okay. Any other top tips, Dave? Lay them on us.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, we kind of danced around this and this is not going to surprise you at all. Making sure that you have clear time off, making sure that you have a time when you’re going to work and when you’re not going to work, and respecting that because that’s going to help you be more focused when it’s time to work. Like, I just came back after a nice long break, like I’d mentioned, and so I believe that my success is dependent upon the fact that I did that.

Also, though, related to the schedule is scheduling the time for your most valuable activities. If I talk to an average person, they’re going to have between 5 and 25 job descriptions, and more if they’re a business owner. And so, what I want to do is I want to look at all those different things, and say, “Which of these is most valuable? Which of these is worth the most per hour? Or which of these is the hardest to replace or will help you advance in your career the most?”

And then I want to look at the schedule, and say, “How much time are you spending in this most valuable activity? When is the time of your day, or the time of your week, when you are least likely to be interrupted, when you can be the most focused? Schedule time to work on that most valuable activity during that time. And that not only will reduce the switches but it increases your value per hour.”

And, to me, that is the holy grail of productivity, is increasing how much you’re worth per hour, not how much you make per year. If you increase your annual salary but you also increase the hours that you spend working, that wasn’t a raise.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I’m right with you.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, you’re just making more work for yourself. But if we can increase how much you make and decrease the hours that you’re working, now that’s fantastic, and that gives you the freedom to reinvest that time into whatever else you feel is worth investing that time into.

Pete Mockaitis
Amen. I totally agree with you there, but some people may say, “Hey, that might be easy for you self-employed trainer types to say,” but I just have a good friend who got a job, it’s a sales role, and it’s pretty awesome. They said right up front, “Hey, we don’t care so much like how many hours you work or which hours you work, so long as you’re hitting these particular goals of new prospect meetings occurring per month.” So, it’s like game on. Like, if he can crack the code on more compelling communications or whatnot, he can work less or, if he wants to, hey, work more to get more commission.

But it is magical because there are some thresholds, like at some point when your hourly compensation rises to one point, it’s like, “You know what, now might make sense to have me hire someone to help clean the house. It might make sense for me to hire a handy person to fix up some things.” And then it just can really snowball because you break these thresholds where outsourcing more and more makes great sense and you’re able to deploy that time to either even more wealth creation or alternative results and fun that you want to make happen in life.

Dave Crenshaw
Yes. And it doesn’t have to be limited to someone in sales or someone who runs their own business or whatever it is because everything that you just said there is one less thing that you have to think about, one less thing that you have to devote time and attention to, which means less switches. And less switches means you get things done faster with less mistakes, with less stress.

And sometimes people hear that too, and they go, “Well, okay, that’s great but I can’t hire someone to do this and that.” Okay, fine, but you do hire people. You don’t make your own hamburger, do you? Not most of the time, maybe on the weekend. You go to wherever it is. You go to Wendy’s and you hired someone to make that for you. You relieve yourself of the burden of having to think about how to put that thing together. When you hire Uber, you’re relieving yourself of the burden of having to spend time driving, which, by the way, is one of the least productive things you can possibly do.

And you can look at it and say, “How can I use technology to reduce the amount of time I’m spending doing each of these things? How can I outsource one task at a time? Could I use Fiverr? Could I use Upwork, to have one person take care of part of this so that I can focus on the thing that I do that is truly amazing and truly valuable?” The more you start to be aware of those things, the more you start to do them, the more productive you become. And, again, I’m kind of throwing some stuff out here, and maybe some thing is going to hold on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I just appreciate that you do it.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, but I go back to that principle of the 2% increase in productivity. A 2% increase in productivity is an entire work week every single year. So, if you look at the computer you’re using, the keyboard that you have, the chair that you’re sitting in, all of those things can create switches. If I have a chair that is uncomfortable, isn’t that going to cause me to switch my attention a few times a day to go, “Man, I don’t feel good. I’m not performing well”? I just lost a whole lot of time and a whole lot of value, so it’s worth making the investment to get the best quality tools that you can get.

I’m sitting here, I’ve got a mouse in my hand that’s a gaming mouse with lots of different buttons that are assigned to macros. I just upgraded my computer to the best quality, and I like gaming quality stuff because gaming quality is built to demanding specifications. They usually perform better, so I just upgraded my computer for the year. I guarantee, that upgrade is going to yield me at least two weeks this year. It’s probably about a 4% increase in productivity. And that sounds crazy but once you start doing the math, you realize, “Wait a minute. Little things really start to add up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, just because I don’t know how many of us can dork out on at this level, I’m going to join you here because I’ve talked to myself about that as well in terms of like, “Hey, my computer is pretty good. It’s 2017. I don’t feel like I’m often annoyedly waiting for stuff.” By the way, my trick was I got a super fancy SSD, a solid-state drive, and plugged it in via a Thunderbolt, or USB-C, and that’s my bootup drive which I found gave me a lot of acceleration for not a lot of dollars.

But run me through the math. So, well, one, I just love to justify buying new stuff. But so, if my computer is fine, and then I went to top of the line, how do you see that turning into extra minutes for me each day, week, and year?

Dave Crenshaw
So, let’s just start with that simple math: 2% increase. So, if you’re 52 weeks a year, 2% is one week, right? So, if I increase anything that I’m doing by 2% overall, that almost immediately adds up to one week.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dave Crenshaw
And then we ask the question, “Well, what is my time worth? What is a week’s worth of time in terms of my career?” And everybody is going to have a different number for that. And then, not to get too crazy with the math, but I also like to use the rule of three, which says, “If I‘m going to invest a dollar in my career, in my business, I want to get three back in return.” So, I look at that week. Let’s say that one week of time is worth a $1,000, okay? I’m going to be really conservative. It’s worth a $1,000. That means I can invest $300 to increase my productivity by 2%. Makes sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dave Crenshaw
Or $333. Because if I can invest $333, I’m going to get one week back, and then I’m also going to make money on top of it because of that value. And that’s being ultra conservative because, in many cases, these time gains stack from year to year. I recently did a video about this where I was teaching that concept and some of the things that I’ve done, and I’ve realized, looking back over the 20 years of my career, give or take, I’ve probably gained three to four years’ worth of time.

And that sounds crazy, but then you look back, and I go, “Wait. Did I really gain that much time? Let’s see. I’ve written five books in that time. Well, I’ve actually written six because I wrote a YA novel for fun. I’ve created 35 courses for LinkedIn Learning.” I can just start stacking out the list. “And, plus, I’m working less hours than I’ve worked in my life.” It is a real principle, and I’m making more than I’ve ever made.

So, little things, it started 20 years ago with me doing the same principle, looking at my workspace, looking what I was saying, and saying, “How can I gain some time?” And every little change has added up and made that happen.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And so, well, here’s where I guess the rubber meets the road. So, if we want a 2% lift in productivity, and we’re thinking about upgrading your computer, then that means, in a 480-minute, eight-hour work day, we’re going to need a fifth of that. We’ll just call it 10 minutes. You think you’re gaining 10 minutes a day from your upgraded computer?

Dave Crenshaw
I think that’s an easy question to answer. In the case of your Thunderbolt drive, didn’t you gain 10 minutes?

Pete Mockaitis
I did but I want to see if I can justify and upgrade the whole computer.

Dave Crenshaw
So, in my case, so I looked at my computer and I actually have mine…the one that I had before was a tank. It was probably coming up on four and a half years. And just for tax purposes, I came on the year, I go, “Well, I need to make an investment,” so that was an easy one to make. And I probably, just looking at benchmark scores, I probably increased the speed of my computer by 30%. Now, am I going to use that full 30% every time? No, but I’m definitely going to get 4% to 5% out of it constantly all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess that’s what I’m wondering. Like, to zoom in even more, it’s like I don’t often find that I’m just sitting waiting for my computer to handle something.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, but that’s not the problem, or that’s not the issue. The issue is, “Could you wait less? Could things happen faster than you think?” And they can. They always can. Not just for the computer but other things.

Pete Mockaitis
Are we talking about waiting for one and a half second to half a second on a page load to open? Is that kind what the building blocks here?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Dave Crenshaw
Now, I sense, what I know of you, Pete, you’re an analytical guy. You want to know the numbers, and I confess that I am entrepreneurial. I do entrepreneurial math.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Dave Crenshaw
So, I generalize broadly but I have found that my generalizations actually turn out to be quite accurate over time. So, yeah, I’m not like sitting down and crunching the numbers on this, but I can go, “Reasonably speaking, am I getting that kind of return? Yes. And am I going to be extra conservative with that assumption? Yes.” And it usually turns out to be correct.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve noticed, like, “Hey, when I open up a program, I wait less now with my newer computer.”

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, yeah, everything. Chrome opens faster. There are things that we’ve done. Like, for instance, with video editing, because I know you do stuff with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s huge. Amen. Yeah, if you’re video editing, you’re going to need that.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, I open it up, I’m spending a lot less time with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Okay, that answers that. Video editing is demanding and makes you wait.

Dave Crenshaw
But here’s another thing that you could do. So, I use a thing called Phrase Express, and there are things like this, that are phrase macros. And so, I found that I was typing the myth of multitasking over and over again. Kind of ironic, right? So, I changed it into a macro where I just type a couple of keys and it spells out the myth of multitasking. You start creating a framework of that where you’ve got 50 to 100 phrases, you just boosted your productivity by 2% to 4% quickly. And that doesn’t cost hardly anything or maybe nothing at all to implement that.

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, good, good stuff. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Dave Crenshaw
Yes, the one thing I would say, and we haven’t really hit on this much, is the fourth effect. I’ve talked about the three effects of multitasking, or switch-tasking: things take longer, you make more mistakes, you increase your stress levels. But there’s a fourth effect, and this applies even for people who think that they’re good multitaskers, they think they can get away with it and still be productive. That’s fine. But when you switch-task on a human being, even back-task sometimes, you damage that relationship, and that’s unavoidable.

Because when you switch-task on a human being, you are communicating to them that they are less important than whatever it is you’re doing in the moment. And none of us would wake up and start our day and go down to see our spouse, and say, “Hi, honey. You’re unimportant. What are you going to do today?” Or, someone calls your business, you say, “Thanks for calling XYZ Business where you’re unimportant. How can I help you?”

We would never do that but that’s exactly what we do when we pick up our phone and we’re playing with it when our spouse is talking to us. Or, when we’re in a Zoom call and we’re kind of checking email out of the corner of our eye, we’re damaging relationships. Now, that’s negative.

The positive is when you stop doing that and you focus on human beings, you build relationships because it’s unfortunately uncommon to treat people that way now. So, you stand out when you’re someone who gives someone your full attention, and you build the relationship, you make them feel important. And there’s just hundreds of reasons why that’s a fantastic thing to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Dave Crenshaw
I’ve got it hanging on my wall right here next to me. It’s, “Every time you devote time to practice, you haven’t lost. You’re always a winner.” Any guess where that came from?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m guessing it’s a sports person but I don’t know.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, it’s Bob Ross.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, lovely.

Dave Crenshaw
So, that reminds me that I’m always learning, I’m always making mistakes, and sometimes I can get hard on myself, but I remember that every mistake is a practice. And if I’m practicing, I’m always getting better and always winning. Good old Bob Ross.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Dave Crenshaw
I’m listening to Is This Anything? with Jerry Seinfeld. I am inspired by comedians because so much of what they do is very similar to what I do as a speaker. They have to hone their craft, and so I like getting inspiration from uncommon places. So, Jerry Seinfeld is giving that to me right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Dave Crenshaw
I always say that calendar is my favorite tool, but in terms of an app, I’m a fan of Evernote. I like the simplicity of it in keeping notes and staying on top of everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And, tell me, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, if they’re interested in getting The Myth of Multitasking, you go to MultitaskBook.com. That’ll take you right to the Amazon page. And then, of course, my website DaveCrenshaw.com, all sorts of free resources there for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Dave Crenshaw
Pay attention. Pay attention today. Think of someone that you’re going to talk to whether it’s at work or at home. Practicing at home will help you get better at work. The next person you talk to, give them 100% of your attention.

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all your single-tasking adventures.

Dave Crenshaw
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure, Pete.

617: Enhancing Your Productivity by Managing Your Mental Energy with David Kadavy

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

David Kadavy explains how to harness your mental energy to improve your productivity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How our obsession with time management hurts us 
  2. Three questions to ask to get more work done
  3. How to easily shift to the optimal mental state for work 

 

About David

David Kadavy is a bestselling author, blogger, podcaster, and speaker. Through his blogging at kadavy.net and his podcast, Love Your Work, he helps people find satisfaction through following their crafts, even if it takes them down unconventional paths. David’s writing has appeared in QuartzObserverInc.comThe Huffington PostMcSweeny‘s Internet Tendency, and Upworthy. He has spoken in eight countries, including appearances at SXSW at TEDx. He lives in Medellín, Colombia. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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David Kadavy Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
David, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

David Kadavy
Pete, it is good to be here. And I have to say, I’m so much more comfortable this time than I was last time that we spoke.

Pete Mockaitis
That was wild. That moment is etched in my memory for several reasons. One, it was one of my last hurrahs in my apartment of 10 years that I called the Strat because I got married just a few weeks later. Two, it was insanely hot.

David Kadavy
Insanely hot for the record.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I was sweating because it was hot and I was sweating because I hadn’t done very many podcasts, like, live in person. Most of them were over the internet but you were in my apartment, and it’s like, “Oh, I think I clicked multi-track.” And I remember here’s how committed you are to the craft, David. I don’t know if you remember this. I think of you all the time because I offered you a LaCroix, and you said, “After the show because I don’t want to be belchy when we’re recording.” And I was like, “Now, there’s a man. It’s a hot day. Turning down a delicious cold LaCroix so he won’t burp on the show, that’s commitment.”

David Kadavy
Well, but, seriously, could you drink a LaCroix while recording? I know I can’t.

Pete Mockaitis
I did it before. I just go off to the side for a burp off mic.

David Kadavy
I had the same thing happen with another podcast host who was like, “Hey, let’s order some Indian food. We can eat it right before the show.” I’m like, “What? Are you serious? You think you can eat food, like Indian food, and then immediately record?” Maybe he can. He’s a great podcaster. But maybe he’s got an amazing digestive system or something, but I couldn’t record after that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no. Hey, why risk it? Well, speaking of risk, one thing you did which was pretty adventurous and exciting was straight up moving to Colombia, and that’s where you live now. From Chicago to Colombia. How is that going?

David Kadavy
It’s going great. I had some problems. They kicked me out a couple times. But I’m back. I was having trouble with the visa that I had. I had just like a freak incident and had to leave because of it. So, now I’ve been here for five years. And one of the main things that really attracted me to being down here is this project that I’m working on right now, this book that I have coming out. And so, now is kind of the end of the experiment, but now I have a life here, so I’m not leaving.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. So, Mind Management, Not Time Management: Productivity When Creativity Matters. It’s fun. Like, when we spoke last time, it seemed like you were just sort of in the middle of formulating and honing these ideas. And now, we’ve got a polished gem of a finished something. Lay it on us, what’s sort of the main idea behind this book?

David Kadavy
Yeah, thank you. And middle is about right because I’ve been working on this thing for about 10 years when we talked roughly five years ago, something like that. And it really all started when I got my first book deal about 10 years ago, almost to the day, and I sort of found that, first of all, I wasn’t a writer. I hated writing as a kid. I didn’t think of myself as a writer, and, all of a sudden, I get this book deal after doing a little bit of writing, and I decide to go ahead and accept that, to take it on, take on the challenge.

Only, it was way more difficult than I had expected. I just found that everything that I had learned about productivity totally did not prepare me for writing a book. One of those things would be time management. So, to write this book, I just cleared away as much time as I possibly could. I cleared away my schedule, I started to outsource things like my grocery shopping and my meal preparation and having my house cleaned, and doing certain errands and all these things. Cleared away as much time as I could and sat down to write. And I couldn’t do it. I was just like banging my head against the wall all day.

And, eventually, I did realize that I could have this sort of 15-minute bursts where, all of a sudden, the writing would come really easily. And I did some experimentation, I sort of came up with a grab bag of rituals that I could go to, to get this writing done. And when that book was finally done, I sort of looked back on the experience, and thought, like, “Wow, what happened?” And I started to look into the behavioral science research, I started to look into the neuroscience of creativity, and I started to realize that there were a lot of different things that supported the patterns that I had come up with in terms of trying to make this creative work happen.

And we already have quite a bit of knowledge about how creative work happens, but the pieces haven’t really been put together, and a lot of us are still working on this kind of old paradigm of time management in trying to get things done. And so, that’s what I’m talking about in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, beautiful. Let’s dig in then. So, what makes the difference in those moments of 15 minutes, “Whoa, words are flowing easily,” versus, “I’m banging my head against the wall. Nothing is happening”? What’s kind of the core differentiator there?

David Kadavy
Yeah. So, I think it helps to first understand what we’re going for when we’re going for creativity. Sort of the building block of creativity is the moment of insight and there’s a couple of neuroscientists, one is actually in the Chicago area, Mark Beeman and then John Kounios, who was at Drexel University, and they have examined in people’s brains the moment of insight.

You know, when you had these kind of aha moments where you’re like working on a problem and you’re really struggling? And then, all of a sudden, you kind of have an aha moment. It’s like you feel lit. It’s like a jolt. They found out that that is actually a neurologically distinct moment in time. They made an image of the brain as that happens. There’s this moment where the brain goes quiet, and then there’s just bursts of activity, and that is the moment of insight. And what happens, and what people report during these moments of insight, is they just go from not having the answer to the problem to, all of a sudden, having the answer to the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love it.

David Kadavy
Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
More please.

David Kadavy
And what happens is there’s just these different regions of the brain that are all kind of communicating with each other at once, connecting these concepts that are very disparate. If you think about your brain like a racquetball court, and there’s just all these balls bouncing around in the racquetball court, and every once in a while, a couple of those balls, or a few of the those balls collide, and that’s like a moment of insight.

So, what you’re going for when you’re going through those moments is actually the opposite of what a person would expect. We normally think that if you’re going to do some work that you want to be alert. You want to really be on your toes, etc. Well, it turns out, when you want to be creative, actually the thing that makes those moments of insight happen is a brain state that’s completely different from that. That’s more like you want more of a relaxed state.

And one of the ways to describe that is that your prefrontal cortex, the front part of your brain, is less active in these moments. And so, your prefrontal cortex, that’s what helps you plan, it helps you suppress urges, it’s the thing that’s like, “We’re just going to cook at home because we’re saving for this trip to Hawaii,” or, “I’m not going to have that extra donut. I’m trying to lose weight.” Like, that’s your prefrontal cortex at work helping you with all that planning, prioritizing, etc.

Think of your prefrontal cortex as being in that racquetball court, and your prefrontal cortex is obsessed with the rules of the game. It’s seeing all the balls bouncing around, and it’s like, “Oh, no, I have to make sure that all these balls hit the front wall before they hit the floor,” it’s the rules of racquetball basically. And so, the intention of the prefrontal cortex is to follow the rules, but the result is fewer collisions, fewer insights.

And so, one of the things that is really helpful when trying to make creative work happen is to kind of pick some time of day to work on your creative problems when your prefrontal cortex is sort of out to lunch or still sleeping. For a lot of people, that’s like first thing in the morning. A lot of people, wake up, you’re groggy, people reach for the coffee immediately. That grogginess is a gift. It’s a good time to start trying to think creatively.

Now, the process of being creative doesn’t stop there, but I’ll stop there because I’ve said a lot already.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that. We had Michael Breus on the show, a sleep doctor, and he used the term groggy greatness, which I loved in terms of, yeah…

David Kadavy
I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
…a lot of times ideas, insights, show up right there, and I want to be able to capture them in the moment. So, that’s beautiful. So then, the thesis here is, and it might not only be creative work but there are sorts of different brain states in different types of work, and you’re looking for a match. Can you sort of lay out the whole framework for us here when it comes to we want to do great work, be it creative or another flavor, and lots of it, how do we do that?

David Kadavy
I think we can start with let’s pull apart this title Mind Management, Not Time Management. There’s a specific reason why I put the “Not Time Management” part in it. It’s because we’re obsessed with time management as a culture. A lot of us don’t even realize it. It’s sort of like the water that we, the fish, are swimming in. This is something that I realized now, living in Colombia, which has a completely different conception of time.

And it was interesting when I looked at this, like, “How long has time management been around? How long have we been thinking about time?” We take it for granted. We don’t realize that people didn’t know what time it was, most people, until 150 years ago where there might be a clock tower in the middle of the village, or something, and there weren’t time zones until we had to deal with all the trains that were crossing through time zones, and trying to get time tables that looked right.

And basically, the birth of time management is the moment when scientific management was created. This guy, Frederick Taylor, basically, standing with a stopwatch next to a worker, watching the worker stack bricks for example, and saying, “Oh, well, grab the brick this way, turn it this way, bend over in this way, etc. and then put the brick there. Okay, now, here’s the prescribed movements for stacking bricks. We’re even going to build a scaffolding so that you don’t have to bend over to pick up the bricks, etc. And now we have made the process of stacking bricks as efficient as possible. We have put the maximum amount of work in the time available, and now we’re just going to be so much more productive because of that.”

And so, this is a relic that is still with us today, is that we are watching our time all the time. We have, what I call, time worship as a culture. Time is so pervasive in our culture we hardly even realize it. Notice the way that we negotiate with time quite often. I know I used to… might be coding in my cubicle years ago when I worked in a cubicle, and I’m just like ears deep in it, I’m just totally in it, it’s taken me all day to get to this moment, and, boom, somebody taps me on the shoulder. What do they say? “Hey, Dave,” “Got a minute?” “A minute? Is a minute what we’re looking for here? I mean, because I’m focused. It took me all day to get to this point. I’ve got momentum going. I’m in this mental state, and now you want me to show you how to change the paper on the printer. And now, because I go do that, and it only takes me a minute, but, hey, now I’ve just lost the entire afternoon because I can’t get back into that state.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

David Kadavy
And that’s what we’re looking for is not to treat time as a commodity. Time is not like bushels of corn. It’s not like blocks of frozen orange juice concentrate that you can just line up one after another as if they’re the same thing. If you spend an hour a day writing, at the end of a year you’ll probably have a book. But if you sat down and say, “Well, I’m going to write for 365 hours straight,” you’re not going to get the same result. You’d probably be dead.

So, it’s different. Time isn’t this fungible thing that you can just trade out one after another, and this is one of the things that really frustrates me when I hear people say, “Oh, there’s only 24 hours in the day. Time is the most precious commodity that we have.” No, there’s not 24 hours in the day. There’s like two, maybe four hours in the day. And, by the way, if there’s only 24 hours in the day, that tells you that, at some point, you’re squeezing blood from a stone. Like, yeah, you can manage your time up to a point but, eventually, you’re not going to have gains anymore from managing your time more.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Yeah, that totally makes sense in terms of if that’s the finite thing, you’re going to have a hard time getting big gains out of slicing that up a little bit differently.

David Kadavy
Well, actually, think about it like this way. I don’t know how many of your listeners are golfers, or if you’re a golfer, Pete, I don’t know if you’ve done much golfing.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve done it a couple times and it goes super well.

David Kadavy
Have you ever heard the expression, “Drive for show, putt for dough”?

Pete Mockaitis
I haven’t but I kind of get what you’re driving at, what you’re trying to convey, that the driving makes a huge long movement of that ball, that’s like, “Wow, that’s impressive. We all think you’re cool.” But it may well be those, the finer putts that make you a professional who gets a low score and earns money.

David Kadavy
Right. Well, this was the opinion for like 200 years in golf, was that, “Oh, putting is the most important part of the game.” Why? Because in like a standard round of golf, putts make up half of all the strokes in golf. But there was a guy out of Columbia University his name is Mark Broadie, and he really did a lot of statistical analyses in the game of golf, and has completely changed statistics in the game of golf.

And what he found was that putt for dough is not true. That when you really break it down, that is not the thing that separates amateurs from pros, it’s not the thing that separates the pros from the rest of the field necessarily when they win. That even though putts make up half of the game, they only make up 15% of the difference between, say, pros and amateurs. And so, this is what I call a raised floor. It’s this area where it looks like there’s a lot of room for progress because there’s a lot to work with there. And you get to a certain point, and you think you can keep making progress there but your efforts are better spent somewhere else.

Another example would be like with money. How much money can you save, really? Like, you’ve got to live your life, like spending a minute in the aisle trying to figure out whether this soup is worth five cents more than this other soup is not worth it at a certain level. And so, instead of trying to lower this raised floor, you try to raise the ceiling. And so, instead of how much time can you really save, instead of trying to do that, well, make better use of your time by finding your best energy and making the best possible use of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. I’m down. So, you lay out some three key questions for mind management along the lines of, “Hey, what kind of work do I need to do right now? What kind of mental state am I in? And then, how could I get into the right mental state?” which I think is just very tactically dead-on in terms of, “Here I am.” And so, maybe can you orient us, I guess, to the menu or to the categories of kinds of work? So, stacking bricks is different than writing a book. So, how would you go about categorizing these different flavors of work?

David Kadavy
Yeah, this goes pretty deep, but I do want to just add on at this point about those questions because that is really the best way to get the taste of it because we do go deep in the book, and there’s a lot to cover. But, really, just asking yourself this question next time that you’re about to work on something, “What is the mental state that I’m in right now?” And then ask yourself, “Well, what do I need to do that fits that mental state?”

And if you happen to be in a situation where you really need to do a certain thing, then you can ask yourself, “Well, what is the mental state I would like to be in to be able to do that thing?” And you can kind of reverse-engineer it. A good way to do that is to say, “Well, when was the last time I felt that way?” And then you can start to look at the conditions, “Where was I sitting? What time of day was it? What day of the week was it? Was there something that I ate? Was there something that I drank? Did I drink a LaCroix right before?” Things like that.

Now, that’s a good start, by the way. That’s a good start to ask yourself that question, be aware of this idea that the time that you’re most creative is not necessarily the time that you’re most alert. It’s probably not the time that you’re most alert. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve got it broken down to seven different mental states of creative work.

Pete Mockaitis
Bring it.

David Kadavy
Okay. It’s an acronym. I’ve got a little acronym for it, makes it easier to remember. PERG PAR. Now, we’ve got two main words here we’re thinking about if we want to remember this acronym. PER and PAR. Talking about golf again, the G stands for the game of golf, PER golf PAR, so PERG PAR. And those stand for prioritize, explore, research, generate, polish, administrate, and recharge.

I don’t know if you’ve got time for all those, but some of my favorites there, I think, the distinction between generate and explore is a very interesting one. Generate is, as a writer myself, when I’m in the generate state, I plan to get some writing done, some writing that I can actually use, use to a point.

There’s the famous quote, supposedly from Hemingway, “Write drunk, edit sober.” That’s what the polish is the edit part. So, I’m not worried too much about, “Is this fact exactly right? Am I spelling this correctly?” I’m just trying to get some sentences together that I can later go back when I’m in a different mental state, when I’m more alert. And if I ran across something where I’m just kind of stuck, I just make some brackets, type it in there. So, I’m staying in state. I’m not switching state all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
“Cool story about…that’s inspiring AF.” Moving on.

David Kadavy
Yeah, right. Exactly. That’s actually a great example. You have a situation in that where you want to illustrate something, and you’re like, “Yeah, cool story that’s inspiring AF,” right? And then, later, you go sit down in your recliner that evening with a brandy, and think, “What are some cool stories that I know,” and you do that part separately.

Now, if you’re somebody who already has a grab bag of stories, you’re a writer like me and you collect these things, you might already have something ready to go and you write it. But if you get stuck, you’ve got that. You’re trying to stay in state because it’s a waste of mental energy to be switching these mental states all the time.

Think about a car that’s switching gears. Gears are coupled with one another, that’s moving the car forward, and then as you’re switching gears, well, for a moment, those gears aren’t coupled anymore, and so there are some energy that’s going to waste that way. And so, it’s much better to just stay in state. So, that’s generate.

Now, I did mention I promised that I was going to talk a little bit about explore because there are some fuzzy borders in between these categories where there might be some things where it feels like it’s a generate activity but it’s actually an explore activity. And this happens with me when I write, quite often. So, I actually have a habit that’s very weird that I do every single morning. With my eyes still closed, I have a little portable word processor that I keep in my nightstand drawer. With my eyes still closed, it’s basically a keyboard with like an old-school LCD screen that you might see on a calculator, it’s called an AlphaSmart. You can DuckDuckGo it and see what I’m talking about. They cost 20 bucks, 30 bucks, and they’re really just for writing. I have it in my nightstand.

So, I’ll just grab it out of my nightstand with my eyes still closed, turn it on, and I just write a hundred words. At least a hundred words. I sometimes write more, sometimes a thousand, sometimes just 2,000, but it’s at least a hundred words. I make sure to do that every single morning. Just make a really simple goal for myself.

Now, I’m writing but it’s not generate. It’s explore, because when I’m done with that activity, what I do is I delete it. Now, why would I write, why would I bother writing in the morning and I’m just going to delete it? What do you think about that, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I have a number of ideas in terms of it can…I think you delete but I imagine you read it before you delete it.

David Kadavy
Actually, I don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

David Kadavy
Here’s the thing, all right, and this is where I think a lot of people get stuck on creative work, and trying to write my first book, this is where I got stuck because I thought, “Well, I’ll just put 250 words a day on my calendar,” and I was banging out my 250 words a day. Well, it doesn’t work that way. There are stages to creativity. There are stages to creative work.

Before you reach that moment of insight, before you make those connections from various parts of your brain, you have to have the source material in your brain first. And this is where a lot of the struggle with writing, is we sit down and we think, “All right, I’m going to write this press release. And, okay, where do I even begin?” You expect that you’re going to have this wonderful polished prose that comes out, and there’s all these different facts you need to look up, and you’re like, “Well, wait. Let me go talk to the CEO really quick and see what the CEO has to say so I can collect that quote,” etc. but there’s always things that you need to collect first.

And our brain power is very limited. Our working memory, or our short-term memory, not exactly the same thing but they can be used interchangeably for our purposes, is limited. We can remember two, four, seven things, this is why phone numbers are broken up into groups of four, credit card numbers, etc. so we can remember them. That’s what we’re doing when we’re trying to take in information and solve a problem at the same time is we’re trying to use our working memory for all of that. Well, it doesn’t work that way. You need to get the information into your long-term memory first. And then, later, when your working memory is clear, then you can start to dig into that long-term memory and start trying to make those different connections.

So, when I do my morning writing sessions, which I call an explore session, I’m really just exploring whatever is in my brain. It’s exercising those thoughts in my mind. And those kind of seep in, and it’s one of these things where not everything is going to be useful. Most of it is not going to be useful, but it’s going to help me exercise some different connections. And then, later on, next time that I’m actually sitting down and writing, maybe I’ll say, “Oh, yeah, I had that interesting thing I was writing about the other day,” and it’ll come out.

Now, if I do need to capture something that’s just really great and I just don’t want to miss it, then I have ways of capturing it and transferring it to my computer, but most of the time I just delete everything because it’s a different state. It’s a state of exploration, as the name implies, where that’s one activity that can be explored. But another activity that can be explored is like if I’m reading something.

When I’m writing my book about design and learning about the history of typography, I might be in a situation where I am actually not reading about typography. I’m reading about some other possibly, maybe related subject, like the Protestant Revolution, that might lead me to something, but I actually have no idea.

And so, that’s why I make the distinction between, say, that exploration and generate. And that’s also why I make the distinction between explore and research because if I’m researching, that implies that I’m searching again. That implies that I’m searching for something that I already have, some kind of idea what I’m looking for, and I’m a little bit more focused on trying to find it.

So, you can start to see this is an introduction for a few of those categories, the ways that we’re starting to break up these things that seem like they are things that we just sit down and do all at once. We’re starting to break them up into different situations where we’re doing different things, we’re using different energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I get you. And I’d love it if you could maybe just give me sort of like the one sentence-ish definition of each of these things, “So, prioritizing is this, explore is this, research is this.” Because I think I’ve got my perception of what these words mean, but as you’ve just done some distinguishing, there could be some insight there. So, lay it on us, rapid fire, put you on the spot, what’s prioritizing?

David Kadavy
Okay. Prioritizing is you’re planning. This is something I do every week. I look at my calendar and I make a bullet point list, and I rewrite everything on my calendar, and I just make sure that if I’m going to the airport, I know what time I’m going to go to the airport, depending on traffic, how long it’s going to take for me to get to the airport, when I’m going to leave, when I’m going to eat lunch, all that stuff, instead of just waking up that morning and just trying to figure it out and getting to a different state. That’s what prioritize is. It’s very energy-hungry. Your prefrontal cortex does that prioritization, something you want to do separately.

Explore is that you’re collecting information. Collecting information might be going through ideas or brainstorming. You’re collecting information but not necessarily specific information, right? You kind of have a vague idea of what you’re looking for and you are allowing yourself to be in an open-minded state of looking for that. Starting to click?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s chill. Versus research, which we’re going to next, it’s kind of like, “I want my answer. Give me the answer.”

David Kadavy
Exactly. Research is, “What year was Snoop Dog born? I need to know that for this article that I’m writing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Facts first.

David Kadavy
Yeah, like if you want to know the fact, or you want to know, like, “I want to know exactly how confirmation bias works, and who discovered it, etc.” I need to look that up before I can fill out the brackets in this thing that I wrote when I was in the generate state, which is our next one, right?

Generate. We are trying to produce something that we can turn into usable, shippable work. And next is polish. We’re putting the finishing touches on it. Dotting the Is, crossing the Ts, putting the finishing touches. Refining it. Getting it ready to ship. Now, administrate. This is the stuff that you’ve got to do it. It’s hard to delegate but you got to do it. Maybe like you’re filling out your expense report, going through your email inbox and getting rid of this stuff is kind of low priority. For me, it’s always looking at financial statements.

And then, finally, recharge. And that’s the giving yourself a chance to get that energy back, giving yourself the evening, the weekend, taking a nap even in the afternoon to replenish that energy. And it also helps solve a lot of the problems that you’ve been working on while you’re not even actively thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess with administrate, so we’re talking about creative work, I’m also thinking about like people-y stuff. Like, much of this sort of benefits from the quiet, the silence, the non-interruptedness. And then I’m thinking there’s another vibe, I think like maker versus manager. Like, when you’re in the manager vibe, it’s almost like, well, heck, we almost can make a whole list separate list for like people activities because there’s like connect, there’s delegate, there’s coach, there’s challenge, there’s respond to be of service with quick answers to everybody who needs a slice and a quick bit of info to continue doing what they’re doing.

How do you think about that, the people-y stuff?

David Kadavy
Well, it’s funny because I’m an ambivert, more on the side of introvert so I do think about the people-y stuff about, “Am I going to be in the mood to talk to somebody at this particular time?” But, actually, the people-y stuff and my administrate stuff kind of I put them next to each other even though I’ve never actually thought about them as being related. So, like this conversation that we’re having right now, I consider this to be explore mental state. But I have these conversations later in the day because that’s when I’m just a little more alert, and I can think more on my feet, and have a conversation like that.

Now, as it happens, I have these conversations later in the week so I’ve got a rule, no meetings on Mondays or Tuesdays, because I want to be completely immersed in whatever it is that I’m working on. A lot of the things I’ve been working on have incubated over the weekend. I want to make the best possible use of that on Monday and Tuesday.

Now, towards the end of the week, my creative energy has started to wane. I’ve gone down a lot of different dead ends that maybe aren’t working out, yet I have produced some things but then I’ve got those dead ends. And so, it’s nice to have a conversation where I can start to explore and play with some of the things that I’ve been thinking about. But, also, that makes it a good time to work on administrative stuff, which is why Fridays, especially Friday afternoons, is when I spend time in the administrate state.

If I get an email from my accountant on a Monday, and it says, “Hey, review these financial statements,” I use a plugin called Boomerang, and I send it out of my inbox, and then it comes back into my inbox on Friday afternoon. I don’t even know that exists during that time. So, Friday afternoon, I’ve tapped out my creative energy, and I can do some stuff. Like, it’s not hard for me to look at financial statements, really. It’s not something that I want to spend my best creative energy on.

And so, I don’t necessarily think about the people part as being part of administrate necessarily. But I also do think about, if I’m going to be interacting with people, when is a good time for me to do that, and when are times that I don’t want to be doing that?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so I think that just having some of these language, and I think some folks might even really make it their own in terms of, like, “I like to call it task annihilation,” in terms of like how that energy feels in terms of, “I got a big list of quick things that I’m just going to go dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah,” whatever.

David Kadavy
One of the most powerful things you can do, I think, to be productive is the moment that you know that a task needs to be done that you’re able to stop and think, and say to yourself, “Okay, this doesn’t need to be done now. When is the right time for me to do this? And what’s the state that I need to be in to do that?” And for a lot of people’s work, it’s going to be different. When they do have those chunks of time, when there’s a certain type of activity that they’re doing and there’s a certain energy they’re going for, and they can save everything for those times.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s great when you can do that, and sometimes you can’t, and it’s sort of like it’d be ideal if you could slot the task in where the state just naturally are, and other times you need to do the thing. So, how does one change their state?

David Kadavy
Yes. Well, first of all, fortunately, I think a lot of people are noticing with the quarantine, a lot of people are suddenly in more control of their time so they are actually grappling with this for the first time, where it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I actually have control over this. There’s something other than the clock dictating what I’m going to do so I need to figure out how to manage my energy in a way.” But sometimes you still have certain deadlines, you’ve got stuff that needs to get done. And, like I said, before, a good way to do that is to sort of think about a time when you were in that mental state.

There’s a great story from the chess champion Josh Waitzkin from his book The Art of Learning, where he talks about this executive who has a lot of trouble concentrating in meetings. And so, what Josh did with this executive was asked him, “Well, when’s the time when you feel in flow?” And the guy said, “Well, when I’m playing catch with my son, that’s when I really just feel in the moment. I wish I could feel that way when I’m in a meeting.” Well, it’s a little hard for him to play catch with his son while he’s in the meetings. Maybe you could do that today with Zoom.

But what Josh did was set up this sort of series of triggers that the executive could use. He said, “All right, before you play catch with your son, do these stretches, eat this snack, listen to this Bob Dylan song, then play catch with your son, and keep doing that.” And what he did was basically classically conditioned himself to have these different triggers that could get him into that state. And so, what he did was then he gradually removed certain things where he couldn’t play catch with his son, but before going to a meeting, he would do the stretches, eat the snack, listen to the Bob Dylan song. And, just through time, was eventually able to get to the point where he could just think of the Bob Dylan song and he would be in that state, and he could go into that meeting in that state.

Now, this isn’t something that you’re going to necessarily do with every little thing in your schedule, but maybe your key most important things, the most important states that you’re trying to get into, that maybe you’re in situations sometimes where you don’t have control over being able to get into that sate, then you have certain triggers setup.

Me, before I do a podcast interview, I actually have a whole set of warmups that I do. I took voice lessons when I was living in Chicago, and I’ve got the audio files for the warmups for that, I’ve got different tongue twisters I say, I got sort of a process that I use to take myself from that, I’ve been in my head writing all morning state, to this I’m going to be talking to Pete state. So, this is something you want to do with those important things that maybe you don’t always have the most control over.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that a lot. Like, music in particular, it’s sort of like there’s so many varieties of music. They could just naturally say, “Oh, yeah, this is the mood, and it’s like the soundtrack for that.” So, I think that’s a very versatile and helpful one to have.

David Kadavy
And not even just soundtrack. I want to also talk about if you have control of your environment as well, especially with the quarantine, a lot more people working from home. If you have control over your environment, you can start to change certain things. I’ve got a standing-sitting desk that’s different for different mental states. I’ve got a hammock that I sometimes sit back and brainstorm in. I have a recliner with an overbed table that goes over the recliner. I sort of lay back and write in that recliner. So, you can change certain things.

When I first started on my own, I had a tiny bedroom in San Francisco, and that was where I worked, and that’s where I slept. I worked in cafes during the day but I was still working at night. And so, I didn’t want to confuse working with sleeping, and so I had a little shoji screen, a little room divider, that I would set up around my desk, and I would clip a lamp on there and bounced light in a certain way and a certain album I would listen to, I’d put a certain aromatherapy scent on, and that would trigger me to be ready to work.

Now, when it was time to sleep, I would go immediately from working to sleeping, I had a whole different set of things I did. I hid the desk behind the screen, I’d maybe put on a different scent, maybe put on a different music, and change my environment so that I could change my mental state.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. And so then, a good bit of this is that self-reflection in terms of last time you were in this groove, what was going on, what was the setup.

David Kadavy
And you could have a journal that you keep for this stuff too, and just kind of, at the end of the day, like observe, “When was the time that I felt really in congruence between what I was doing and the way that I felt? And when was the time when I didn’t?” And you’ll eventually start to find those patterns.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, David, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

David Kadavy
No, I think that we’ve covered a lot of cool stuff. I mean, I obviously have an entire book, it’s very dense. I’ve worked 10 years on this thing, so there’s a lot to tackle, way more than we could talk about in this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

David Kadavy
Oh, I like this one from the investor, Naval Ravikant, who was an early investor in Uber and other different companies, and is a great philosopher sort of to follow on Twitter, “Earn with your mind, not with your time.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

David Kadavy
I saw an interesting sort of meta-analysis recently in the neuroscience publication called Neuron, and it was about beliefs. And it was basically saying that we form beliefs not just to reduce uncertainty in our world, which is very important for moving through the world, to be able to quickly assess things. This is where biases come from. But that having a belief in itself is a reward. And so, they’ve noticed this through a number of different experiments that being able to hold a belief and confirm a belief actually looks like a reward in the brain. And so, this is sort of the idea of confirmation bias, the neural correlates of confirmation bias.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “See, I’m right.” Like, that feels good?

David Kadavy
Yeah. And it is critical to our sort of echo chamber world that we live in, but it’s also important to doing creative work, I think, it’s very relevant. So, if I’m somebody who’s like, “I believe, one day, I’m going to become a famous comedian,” that belief feels good. And they’ve even noticed that if you’re looking for a certain belief, your brain will change what it looks for to confirm that belief.

And so, if you believe you’re going to be a famous comedian someday, then you’re going to seek out information that’s going to confirm that belief, and you’re going to avoid information that would challenge that belief. So, information that might confirm that belief would be, “I’m going to go take another comedy class.” Information that would challenge that belief would be, “I’m going to get on stage and tell some jokes in front of people,” because, likely, you’re not going to get the laughs that you expect.

And so, this is a way that we kind of have what I call aspiration procrastination, which is what my previous book The Heart to Start was about, which is the situations where having this belief that this thing, you’re going to do this someday is such an enjoyable feeling that we put off doing anything that would challenge that belief. So, it’s really interesting to see the actual neuroscience behind that.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

David Kadavy
I really enjoy the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Black Swan I think is a fantastic book.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

David Kadavy
Todoist. Great to-do app.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

David Kadavy
My 100 words on my AlphaSmart in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

David Kadavy
Well, the idea of mind management, not time management is something that people tend to respond to.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to get in touch, where would you point them?

David Kadavy
Twitter. I’m really active on Twitter. I know all the kids love Instagram these days, I know all the old people love Facebook these days, but Twitter is where I’m at @kadavy.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

David Kadavy
Yeah, final challenge is the next time that you have something to do, ask yourself, “What would be the ideal mental state for me to do this?” That’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. David, this has been a treat. Keep on rocking and we’ll see each other maybe in five years.

David Kadavy
I hope sooner than that but, yeah, Pete, it’s an honor. Your show is wonderful, so thank you.

616: How to Handle Work in a World Where Everything’s Urgent with Brandon Smith

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Brandon Smith says: "Don't let everything be urgent all the time. Everything can't be equal priority."

Brandon Smith shares how to cut through non-stop urgency and work on what’s truly important.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How urgency is just like hot sauce
  2. What your boss really means when they say everything’s urgent
  3. How to expertly say no to extra work

 

About Brandon

Brandon went from not being able to order a pizza due to a debilitating stutter to becoming a master communicator. 

He went on to teach communication in two leading business schools and has won 12 teaching awards for his work in the classroom. 

Through his work with businesses, Brandon has helped countless employees go from being on the verge of getting fired to becoming some of the company’s top performers. 

Brandon learnt the secret of urgency, what he calls ‘Hot Sauce’ and how different people react differently to it. Today he is the author of The Hot Sauce Principle. 

Used in the right amount, hot sauce can be the very thing that turns a bland or stressful workplace into a place of flavorful productivity. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Rise.com. Build your team’s learning library–the fast and fun way–with Rise.com/awesome 
  • Blinkist. Learn more, faster with book summaries you can read or listen to in 15 minutes at blinkist.com/awesome 

Brandon Smith Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Brandon, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Brandon Smith
Pete, really excited to be on the show.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And I was just telling you off the recording that your subtitle is so good. Your book is called The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time.

Brandon Smith
Everything is urgent all of the time, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re speaking to my experience and the exhaustion associated with that. But I want to sort of go back in time a little bit. So, you were not always a master communicator. There was a time, I’m told, that you had quite the stutter and were nervous about ordering pizza. What’s the story of the transformation here?

Brandon Smith
Yeah. So, let me tell you a little bit of the story. I don’t know if I can answer the transformation part as well but I can at least tell you part of the story. So, I was the youngest of three boys, I had two older brothers, both were adopted, and my oldest brother was always in and out of trouble, so creating a lot of drama and dysfunction in my house, throwing up.

Well, when I was 10, he took his own life. And during that time, it was a really kind of transformative period for myself and my family. It was a hard time. And I ended up, I don’t know why, but I ended up coming down with a stutter about six months after he died, and I couldn’t shake it, and that was going into middle school, which I do not recommend.

So, every day, before middle school, I would have to go and see my speech therapist early in the morning and we’d work on the letters that always tripped me up, which were the Bs and the Ps and the Ts, so then I would work on those and then go on to the school day. And so, yeah, during my entire middle school career, if you were to call it that, things that involved those letters were really tricky for me. I would find any way to avoid that.

But when you’re ordering a pepperoni pizza, there’s just no escaping. You can’t say, “Can you put those little things on there? What are they called again?” so, then, ordering the pepperoni pizza, that would never really end. I would just get caught in that stutter. And I just decided that people were just kind of messy and dysfunctional, because growing up with my brother, and then the way kids with stutters were treated in school, I thought, “Man, people are messed so I’m just going to keep distance from them.”

And that was kind of my high school years. Really kind of made myself kind of a wallflower, an introvert, and then went off to college, didn’t really know what I wanted to major in, ended up majoring in communications, ironically enough. And then, at some point along the way, my stutter kind of shook free, I suppose. However, I can tell you, when I get really, really tired, or really, really stressed out and tired, it comes back a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, what a story, and I’m sorry to hear about that difficult moment but it’s reassuring to hear that you, ultimately, triumphed and, here we are, benefitting from your wisdom.

Brandon Smith
I’m working on it, Pete. I wouldn’t say triumphed. So, I’m working on it. I’m working on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you sound great, and you’ve got something important to say, and I’m excited to hear about it. So, first, The Hot Sauce Principle, why don’t you just define that? What’s the big idea there? And where does this term come from?

Brandon Smith
Yeah, you know, the big idea, what I was finding, so I wear lots of hats in the world. One of my hats is I’m an executive coach. Another hat, I teach at universities and business schools. And I was just finding that a lot of the people I was interacting with in the workplace, didn’t matter what kind of job they had, didn’t matter whether they were nonprofit, for profit, big, small, work in the United States, work internationally, two things were true. Time was everyone’s precious resource. Not money, it was time. And everything was urgent all the time.

And that urgency was like hot sauce. One day it just kind of hit me. It’s like just being hot sauce just poured on everything. And while I love that concept of hot sauce for urgency for lots of reasons, one, I like it because a little bit of hot sauce is actually kind of a good thing. I like hot sauce. It adds focus, it adds flavor, makes things a priority. But you put that stuff on everything, if you’re like me, you’re just going to be drenched in sweat, curled up in a ball, and not really able to function. And some people can tolerate a lot of this stuff, and some people can’t tolerate much at all.

So, it’s a nice, simple way of thinking about how we deal with urgency, and that sometimes it’s a good thing. But too much of anything, particularly urgency, is like hot sauce. It just overwhelms us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you mentioned some people can handle a little, and some people can handle a lot. That reminds me of there is this like local comedian who was making a joke about how some people who are really into their hot sauce will sort of demean others, it’s just like, “Oh, you probably can’t handle this.” It’s like, “You’re belittling me for having a tongue that works properly.” Like, where else has this happened with regard to, “Oh, man, you probably don’t need glasses, but I need huge glasses”?

So, we’re going to dig into that, I’m sure, in terms of just how much you can handle and how much is optimal. And so then, tell us then, what would you say is sort of the most surprising or fascinating discovery that came about when you were putting together this research associated with urgency and what we do about it?

Brandon Smith
I think there’s probably a couple things that really are big highlights that are important for us to think about. First, urgency is a good thing. So, if we kind of flip into another part of the workplace world, all the experts in change management, one of the more famous ones is a guy by the name of John Kotter who teaches at Harvard.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had him on the show.

Brandon Smith
Oh, you had him on the show?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Brandon Smith
Okay. Well, then you know John well. Well, John is famous for change management. And when you look at a lot of the concepts he brings, in his frameworks, he says, “You know what, if you want to turn out a change, the first place you got to start is urgency. There has to be a high-enough sense of urgency.” So, urgency is really important when we’re trying to change.

My kids always joke with me because every year, about a month out, six weeks out to a month out from my annual physical, I will start really doubling down on exercise and health. And they’re like, “Oh, here comes dad’s physical again.” But it’s that urgency. I want to show up really good for the physical. It creates urgency. It gets us to change.

So, I think one big takeaway is that urgency is a really good thing. It’s a healthy thing. We need it. As one client told me many years ago, she said, “I know I need to light a fire in my people, but sometimes I need to light a fire under them too.” So, we don’t want to cut out hot sauce, but the problem is when we, as leaders, just think everything is urgent and we make our emotions, our anxiety, other people’s problems. It’s kind of like kick the dog syndrome.

There’s a whole new set of research studying emotions in the workplace, they’re called emotional contagion. And one of the big takeaways in that research is that anxiety is one of the more contagious forms of emotions. It’s super contagious. So, we want to make sure that we’re not making other people feel that pain. That’s a really, really bad thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Brandon, you know, that rings true in my experience in terms of anxiety. I just pick up on it. It’s just like, “Aargh.”

Brandon Smith
And you think of the year we’re in, it’s really easy for a leader to be really anxious about a lot of things. Anxious about uncertainty, about where the business is going, anxious about their family or the health, so are all our employees. They’re all anxious too. So, sometimes we actually need to be the calm in the storm. We’ve got to say, “Okay, I’m going to show calm today, or peaceful today, so I don’t freak everybody else out and they can focus and do their job.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m with you. So, urgency, it’s not bad, we need some of it, especially in order to make a change. If you don’t got it, it’s probably not going to happen. And so, at the same time though, hey, we’re in a global worldwide disease pandemic at the moment with COVID-19, as we speak. Hopefully, people will be listening to this, years from now, and say, “Oh, I remember that. That was a difficult time. I’m so glad it’s such a distant memory now.” But, in addition to that, you say that professionals these days are in an urgency epidemic. What do you mean by that? And what are the consequences of it?

Brandon Smith
So, the urgency epidemic is when other people put their urgency on us, on you. They make their problems your problem. Notorious for this would be like large publicly-traded companies. So, shareholders and everyone else putting so much pressure on them, so what most C-level leaders do in this company, I hate to say, is they just tell all their direct reports, “All this stuff is urgent. We have to change it all right now. All of it now.”

And I was actually sitting in a meeting a few years ago with a senior leader who said this to the room, and one of his direct reports raised their hand and said, “Well, I totally get that, boss. I totally understand that but help us to prioritize. So, what’s the priority? What’s the order here?” And he looked at him and he said, “All of them are urgent right now equally.” And you can feel the room just deflate.

So, the real epidemic is everything being urgent all the time and having that pressure being pushed down on us. So, it’s kind of like rather than running a marathon where you say, “Okay, I’m going to be done at 26.2 miles,” it’s like run until you drop. Because we can sprint, we can do urgency for a little while, but the school of thought is it needs to be more like interval training. Like, you sprint, you get a little rest, you sprint, you get a little rest. Not just run until you drop.

And so, that’s what the real urgency epidemic costs us. It costs us exhaustion, burnout, and performance, and lots of other things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, this is very much ringing true. Oh, there’s so much I want to dig into there. First, okay, maybe this is a quick one, with intervals, there’s all sorts of different interval timers. I’ve got so many apps on my phone and different recommendations for four minutes on, one minute off. Do you have a sense for what is “optimal interval”? If we really want to make some stuff happen, and we also want to not burn out, what’s kind of the range of, hey, sprinting versus chilling ratio?

Brandon Smith
Oh, man, yeah. Pete, this is tough. I hate to give that, like, classic business school answer, “It depends,” but it really totally does depend. So, for example, let’s say we were a software company, and we did a product release. Well, the natural time to do interval for rest would be right after the launch of a new product. So, if you’re in that kind of a world where you have a beginning, middle, and end of something, then you want to take the break at the end.

There was a company out in Silicon Valley a couple of years ago that tested this idea. And they would launch a new product every quarter, and at the end of every quarter, they’d shut down their business for a full week so everybody could rest, so nobody worked that week. So, at the end of the year, they were actually only working 11 months out of the 12 months because of one week off every quarter. That first year they did it, they had a higher productivity and higher performance and higher revenue than the year before.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. So, working fewer total days.

Brandon Smith
Yeah, fewer total days. If you look at another example of that, you might say like in the quick-service restaurant world, Chick-fil-A is number one in revenue per store, and they are only open six days a week, and they don’t have the late-night hours, like McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Taco Bell or any of the other players might have. So, that’s an example of interval training. They found a way to make that work in their rhythm. They did one day off a week.

So, I think it really depends upon the business but the notion is really important. So, I think almost a better way to think about it is if you’re a leader or a manager, how can you give your folks a break between sprints so they get a moment to catch their breaths? And what are some creative ways you can do it that kind of work for your world?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, can you give us one or two or three creative ways right off the top of your head?

Brandon Smith
So, one would naturally be trying to find an extra day off a week, or working from home. So, there are many uncomfortable things and not pleasant things that came from 2020, but there are some positives. One positive is a lot of employers realized people can work from home. And then, as a huge not only morale boost and perk, but it impacts motivation if used in the right doses in a positive way.

So, allowing people the opportunity to work from home is probably going to be more like our new normal. My guess is, if we look out in the crystal ball, we’re going to see people coming into the office one, two, maybe three days a week, and then working from home the other days of the week. So, that’s an example of interval training, giving people a little more space to get things done.

Another example would be thinking about times and opportunities where you can close and turn off the whole business. So, what makes this tricky is if you’re going to give someone a break, you got to make sure people aren’t pinging them during the break. Like, I could tell you, “Pete, take this day off.” But if customers are still calling you and they didn’t get the memo, it’s not really a day off. So, boundary is really important.

Part of my background is I’m a trained clinical therapist, and any therapist, one of their passion areas is boundaries, and to really do this thing well, interval training and intervals, and protecting ourselves from urgency, we’ve got to know how to set boundaries, know how to communicate that and say no when necessary.

So, I’ll give you one more, a quick one. This is a personal tip that you could use. Everyone listening to this can use this. I started doing it this year. Really easy. I stopped emailing people on the weekends. Period. Now, it didn’t mean I didn’t do work. So, Microsoft Outlook is the tool I use. They have a function, like a lot of emailing software tools, where you can schedule emails.

So, what I did was I would still do my work but I would schedule all my emails to go out on Monday morning when people were actually supposed to be at work or working. And what I found. when I did that, was I wasn’t getting any emails on the weekend. Because, before when I would send an email, there would always be that super hardworking ambitious person at the other end that would kick the email back with a response. And then I would respond, and then they would respond, and now we’re playing an email tennis match on Saturday afternoon.

Well, I’m not playing email tennis matches anymore, and so it allowed me to really get ahead of the week and not feel that kind of pace and urgency. So, that’s a simple kind of interval training that we can all put into our lives. And if you’re a manager, I would encourage you to tell your team that you’re doing that so they don’t send you emails on the weekend either.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay, cool. Well, so already so many great takeaways there in terms of we’ve got to have some rest, and you could think about creative ways to do that. Shut down the whole business, or the whole team, or have particular days off, and so there’s a rhythmic groove that you’re in, and establishing a boundary, showing it to others so that they follow up. So much good stuff here.

I guess I also want to get your take on it is really frustrating when someone says, “All of these are urgent. Right now. And equally so.” Now, in my opinion, I want to get your take on this, one, I think when someone communicates that, it’s really just laziness and that they haven’t actually done the work to determine what is, in fact, the most urgent and/or important yet. That’s my hot take. What are your thoughts? Does that jive with what you believe as well? Or, how do you see what’s behind that message?

Brandon Smith
Yeah. Well, I agree with you completely. I would say when we live in a world where times are our most precious resource and everything is urgent all the time, it will default us to become firefighters. We’re not leaders. It doesn’t matter people’s title. Most people right now, “most leaders” are firefighters. And so, when you’re a fighter, you’re in a reactive posture.

So, what you’re saying is rather than being a proactive posture and really prioritize and sit down and plan, you’re just reacting to the stuff that’s burning that day, and then you’re putting that on other people. So, I agree completely. It’s trying to get them to shift that behavior, which is one of the many antidotes you can do when you’re getting someone trying to push that on you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then, lay it on us, if you think everything is urgent, and whether it means you haven’t done the thinking through to determine what’s truly more urgent, how do you recommend we go about thinking through that, and then arriving at some optimal decisions regarding the urgency of things?

Brandon Smith
So, to help with this, for everyone listening who has a boss, I no longer want you think of your boss as your boss. From now on, I want you to think of your boss as your number one customer or client because they really are. I mean, they are. They can decide to renew your contract or end your contract. So, when we do that, it, all of a sudden, turns on a whole bunch of other tools and competencies that we have around client management because, really, what we’re talking about is client management.

We want to sit down and say, “Miss or Mr. Client,” or boss, “I totally understand that you want to get all these things done. Unfortunately, we have limited resources. So, we have a couple options. One option is I would love to talk to you about the order in which we need to take these on and the importance of each so I can try to meet your needs with what we have. The other option is we can get more resources, so maybe we can find more people to get this done, or hire, or get better software, or wherever else we can invest. So, which path would you like to go down?” Essentially, it’s client management, and you’re forcing them to either trade off or offer more resources.

That’s also a boundary conversation. If you don’t do that, and you just say, “Yes, I’m going to get this done,” then what you’re sacrificing is yourself and your team because you’ll end up needing to work till 2:00 to 3:00 in the morning in order to get it all done if there isn’t enough resources, there isn’t enough time. So, you have to have the courage to also be willing to stand up for yourself and for your team to not sacrifice yourself in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And this reminds me, is it called the project management trio, in terms of like the scope and the resources and the timing, and there’s sort of like a triangle there? And it’s like one of them has got to shift. And I think scope can also maybe include quality. We could do a lot of stuff poorly or we can do a few things really well given how much time and how many people we have available to do those things, and to just get very real about that.

And so, I guess I’m curious, there’s all sorts of data suggesting that we human beings do a poor job of estimating how long things take. How do you recommend we get a clear handle on, yeah, this is really what is a manageable amount for us to bite off right now versus not too much?

Brandon Smith
Oh, this is a tricky one. Now, the simple answer is time and wisdom helps to cure a lot of those ills. We just learn over time that, “Oh, yeah, I estimated I was going to take 10 hours. It turns out it took 40. That was not a good decision.” Like, I have not stained my deck myself in many years. Last time I did it, it took me 40 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog.

Brandon Smith
I enjoyed doing it but it took me 40 hours. The next year, I hired a crew. It was like 300 bucks and they did it in like four hours. I will never stain my deck again. So, I think part of it is we learn over time. But the other part of this, too, is it’s really important that, as best we can, we try and under-promise and overdeliver when it comes to things like this. Because when we don’t make a gunline that we promised, we lose credibility. And when we lose credibility, it’s in the book, it’s part of a trust formula that I offer, we need to have trust in order to effectively push back on our manager. If she or he doesn’t fully trust us, or we don’t have that credibility, it’s going to be hard for us to push back. They’re not going to listen to us.

So, part of the way, one of the many ways we gain credibility is by kind of meeting and exceeding expectations on a regular basis. And so, it’s all about kind of managing those expectations. So, for example, I could tell my wife I’m going to be home at 6:00 o’clock. If I come home at 7:30, she’s going to be mad. If I tell her I’m going to be home at 6:00 o’clock, and I come home at 5:30, she’s going to be happy. So, it’s just kind of managing that. So, trying to think how we can do that is going to be key.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that really rings true with regard to with the trust. If you try to push back, and there’s low trust, the boss may very well say, “Nah, it’s not that much. You can handle it.” As opposed to, “Oh, no, I really do believe that you’re giving me your honest, genuine assessment of how long things take as opposed to like you’re sandbagging me because you’re lazy,” or something. So, that’s huge. And then under-promise and overdeliver, that’s excellent.

Let’s zoom into kind of the emotional difficulty associated with putting forward a smaller commitment maybe than you think they want, or saying no, or establishing or enforcing a boundary. All these things can be a little bit uncomfortable in terms of that. And I just sort of, this is my personal trick, I remember when I was an employee, and someone asked me, “Hey, when do you think you can have that done?” I just sort of reoriented that question in my brain not to mean, “When do I really think I can have it done?” to, “What is the latest data I can tell you just before you’re going to become irritated with me?”

Brandon Smith
That’s fair.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s kind of how I tried to play it. And sometimes they push back, and I’d be like, “Yeah, I think I could definitely have that by next Tuesday,” and I meant it. I definitely could because I could probably have it three days before that. And then they’d say, “Hmm, yeah, about Friday?” Then I would just sort of say something like, “Yeah, that’s more challenging but I still think that’s doable.” And then, in that way, it’s like, hey, I was never lying, I was never deceptive, I just said, “I could definitely have it done by then,” because I had a great deal of confidence that I had some bugger to schedule. And frequently they just took it, like, “All right. It sounds cool. We’ll do it then.” So, that was my little trick.

Brandon Smith
No, that’s great. It’s managing their expectations. That’s beautiful. That’s perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s one for me. Let’s hear, Brandon, what are some of your faves?

Brandon Smith
In terms of managing some of those expectations?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, managing expectations, saying no when forcing a boundary, when inside, want to people-please and accommodate.

Brandon Smith
So, let’s go back to like saying no. Saying no is difficult because it’s a vulnerable position we put ourselves in. We don’t like vulnerability because what are they going to do to us when we say no? Are they going to reject us? Are they going to get angry with us? What are they going to do? So, we just say, “Well, the path to least resistance is I say yes and just kind of keep on piling and piling and piling.”

Now, that story ends up always ending the same. We have so much on our plate that we end up missing expectations and starting to disappoint others because you can’t just keep piling and piling and piling. So, there are a couple ways that we can say no that will make it a little less emotional for us and easier. So, one very helpful tip is when you’re saying no, that conversation should be 20% no, 80% alternate solutions to solve their problem.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Brandon Smith
Where we go wrong is we spend all the time, like, you asked me to do something, Pete, and I’d say like, “No, Pete, I can’t. Here’s all the reasons why,” and I go through all my list of reasons. You’re not listening to my list of reasons anymore. You don’t really care. You didn’t like the fact I said no. And what I’ve inadvertently done is I’ve set up a negotiation. So, what you’re going to say to yourself is, “Well, if I can counter his argument, then he has to do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. It’s like, “Oh, well, if you could do this, we’d do that. Give it someone else.” And it’s like, “I didn’t mean to invite you into a micro assessment of the rest of my obligations and, yet, here we are.”

Brandon Smith
And that’s what happens. We end up inadvertently turning it into a negotiation. And so, what you want to do is quickly and very succinctly say, “No, I don’t have the capacity to do this, but I want to help you solve this problem. So, I’ve come up with some other alternate solutions to maybe get this problem solved. Let’s work through some of these to find another solution that will get this completed.”

So, you can suggest colleagues perhaps, you can suggest external resources, you can suggest moving things around. So, there are other options that you can lay out at the table. But, in a perfect world, all the other options should not involve you, so you’re kind of going into problem-solving.

Now, the other thing you can also do in terms of saying no is giving people a little more transparency into all the trains running on your tracks. So, often when people load up, even your own boss, your own manager, they probably have forgotten and are unaware of all the stuff you’re doing. So, giving them that window can be helpful.

I had a student of mine years ago, and she did an internship in New York in investment banking. And during that internship, she had multiple managing directors in that office, and they were notorious for coming up to her and giving her big projects. So, one day, one of them came up and gave her a project after his colleague had given her a project the day before. And she looked at him, she said, “I’m happy to do this for you. But in order for me to do this for you, I need to go to your colleague, the other managing director, and I need to tell them I can’t do their project that they gave me yesterday because I’m doing yours instead. Are you comfortable if I have that discussion?” And they looked at her, and they said, “Never mind.”

So, sometimes, showing people what you have going on, and letting them know who you’re going to have to tell no to in order to tell them yes can also re-shift the focus because, now, we’re going into politics and, all of a sudden, this person could put them self in a political limb that they didn’t realize because now you’re going to tell their boss no so you can do their project, or whoever that person may be.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And I like that so much because it’s honest, it’s real, it’s genuine. And then, sometimes, the person you’re communicating would be like, “Oh, not a problem. Happy to do that.” And then you learn something from that, it’s like, “Oh, huh, funny. Because from the outside looking in, it had seemed like those two projects were of equal importance but, apparently, one of them is way higher, and I didn’t even know that.” And by having had that conversation and learned that, you’re gaining some of that wisdom, that kind of say, “Oh, okay, this is what’s really important here and what is most valued in this team or organization.”

Brandon Smith
Yeah. So, if we go back to one of our bigger meta-principles today, it was about forcing prioritization. Don’t let everything be urgent all the time. Everything can’t be equal priority. That’s when we get overwhelmed and burned out. In a very kind of geeky way, we need to be lining stuff up in a process kind of way, and say, “Okay, where do I start with first? What’s first priority, and second, and third?”

And, by the way, the leaders and the companies that have really done the best job of keeping everybody focused and aligned during this whole time in 2020 have had anywhere between three and no more than five priorities. They’ve been operating off of a very set list of three to five. They haven’t made everything urgent all the time. They said, “No, these are our big things we’re going to focus on. Everybody, line up around these,” and it calms people’s anxiety, it gets people focused, it’s like just that right amount of hot sauce.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, yes, that three to five is great. The forced prioritization is powerful. One way is to just say, “Hey, I could do that, but in order to do that, I’m going to have to drop this.” And so, you share sort of the constraints. What are some of your other favorite ways of forcing a prioritization?

Brandon Smith
So, when you’re thinking about going to your boss, it helps when you bring a menu. So, rather than say, “What do you want me to do?” we want to be a little more on the author seat and we want to bring them a menu, and say, “I’ve got three different options for you today. Which one of these would you like to go down? Which path?” So, that’s another way that we can force prioritization is by offering options. You’ll learn a lot from people based on what they choose off that menu.

So, a common example is, like, I always feel bad for the creative types in the world because they routinely get customers that say, “You know, I don’t know what I want but I’ll know when I see it.” It’s kind of like forces you to do just do all this guessing. But then if you bring them three options, say, “Well, which one of these do you like better?” People always react to a menu. So, spending that little extra effort in creating a menu will also teach you a lot. You’ll learn a lot about what the incentives and motives are, and it’ll help you kind of know what path you want to go down.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that. When I’m a manager, I like that as well in terms of that’s sort of something I ask people to do, is, “Okay. Hey, each day, send me a quick email on what you did today and what you plan to do tomorrow.” And then that really helps me because, one, I could say, “Oh, huh, no need to do that. Let’s do this instead.” So, I get the heads up so I can redirect as necessary.

And it helps me get a sense of, well, what are their preferences, their strengths, their desires, what would they naturally kind of flow to, as well as their judgment in terms of, it’s like, “Oh, you seem to be under the impression that that is really very important/urgent to me, and it’s not.” So, we can have that conversation, and say, “Hey, actually, we’re totally all set on that front for a couple months, so we can go over here.” They’re like, “Oh, okay, great. Didn’t know. Thank you.” So, I like that, the menu. Very good.

Brandon Smith
So, that made me think of something, another tip. So, we’re spending our time with tips as kind of the employee kind of dealing with the manager. But there are tips about being a more effective manager in this stuff. So, I’ll tell you my favorite example that came from a client. So, I was talking about this idea of urgency and hot sauce. He had a small technology company, about 50 employees, an anxious guy as it is, and so he was just bringing that anxiety into work every day. I mean, everybody was just so wound tight because he was so wound tight.

So, I shared this idea of hot sauce and urgency, and gave him one of my little bottles. I buy these little Tabasco bottles in bulk and hand it out to people. And so, he went out to the grocery store and he bought three bottles of hot sauce, stuck them on his desk. Bang! Bang! Bang! And every time he had an initiative or project that was urgent, when he assigned that project, he would hand that owner of the project a bottle of hot sauce to hold onto until the project was done.

And why that was such a great, really great tip and technique that he did is because he only had three bottles to give out. So, once all the bottles were given out, that’s it. He can’t make anything else urgent until someone gives a bottle back. So, thinking of forcing mechanisms like that that you can do is also another way for you to manage the flow of hot sauce on your teams.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Well, Brandon, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Brandon Smith
The only other thing that I would say is also important when we think about hot sauce is just, as managers and leaders, just being intentional, what really is important and making sure we’re communicating that. One of the interesting little missteps I find with senior leaders when we talk about things like executive presence, one of the more common missteps that people don’t realize they’re doing is they talk out loud a lot or they think out loud a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, to their teams.

Brandon Smith
Yeah, to their teams. And they’re just thinking out loud, but their teams are interpreting that as an urgent priority, and they go off and start doing work. And they bring them back a PowerPoint deck the next day or recommendations or something else, and the manager looks at them and says, “I was just kind of just talking. I didn’t really want you to do anything.” So, just being really intentional about what you’re asking folks to do is an important takeaway too for managers so you can keep everybody focused and aligned and just that right amount of urgency.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Now, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brandon Smith
One of the ones I actually mentioned a couple times this week, they attribute it to Mark Twain but I don’t think anyone really knows who said it, but it goes like this, “I would’ve written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have enough time.” I love that quote. Because it emphasizes how hard it is to get to finish thinking, how hard it is to have that very concise, like, “This is what I want.” And when time is our most precious resource and everything is urgent all the time, we tend to kind of dump our thinking on people. So, that’s my favorite quote for at least this week.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Brandon Smith
Probably the one that is jumping out for me right now is about three or four years ago, a group of researchers studied this question, “What’s the worst kind of boss to work for?” And I thought they would’ve come back with the angry, yelling, and screaming boss, that wasn’t number one. Micromanager wasn’t number one. Ghosting boss wasn’t number one. The worst kind of boss to work for? The highly-inconsistent boss or like the unmedicated bipolar boss, because you never knew what you were going to get on a given day.

So, I thought that was really fascinating because it really speaks to the importance of consistency because anxiety at work comes from a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability. That’s one of the reasons why it’s such a contagious emotion. So, we can prevent a lot of that if we’re consistent and predictable. So, that’s one of my favorite pieces of research that’s come out in the last few years.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite book?

Brandon Smith
One recently that I’ve continued to go back to is Daring Greatly from Brené Brown. So, she’s got a whole bunch of books kind of all in the same genre and theme, but I like the study and depth around vulnerability. It’s so important to us building relationships, and even us being more effective as leaders. So, I continue to find myself going back to that one.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Brandon Smith
If I think of a simple one that everyone can do, scheduling your emails. Simple tool. Simple-simple, so powerful, saves you so much time, saves you so much anxiety.

Now, I would say, in more recent years, the ability to learn how to hand things off to others who are better at it than you is a kind of tool. And I found it’s gotten me happier, gave me more leverage, and really allowed me to do the stuff that only I can do. So, I’m a big believer in finding ways to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Brandon Smith
Exercise. I’ve always enjoyed exercise and working out, but I’ve been really doubling down on that the last month, so I’ve been finding it’s been yielding a lot of results maybe that’s because I just had my annual physical.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, right.

Brandon Smith
We’re coming full circle, but that’s one that I think is really, really important.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share with folks that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, and they repeat it back to you frequently?

Brandon Smith
Simple nugget, going to be something I’m going to be writing about in the future is distinction between being an author and editor, and we’ve touched on it a little bit today. But in every dynamic between a manager and a direct report, there’s always someone who sits in the author seat and someone who sits in the editor seat. And knowing what seat to sit in is key.

So, as the manager or leader, you want to spend the majority of your time in the editor seat, which makes a lot of sense when you think about your great all-time direct reports. They would come to you and say, “Hey, Pete, there’s a problem. Here’s what I think we should do about it. I’d love to get your thoughts.” They’re offering a solution for you to edit.

But where we get stuck sometimes, or tricked sometimes, is we’ll have a direct report say, “What do you want me to do?” And what they’re doing is they’re baiting you into authoring so they can sit back and edit. They can say, “Well, it’s not my fault it didn’t work out. He told me to do it that way.” So, making sure that we’re sitting in that editor seat as a leader is really important. It’ll save us time, and it’ll make our teams better because it promotes ownership, initiative, and critical thinking with them.

And then with our boss, we want to make sure we’re sitting in the author seat. Bring them ideas, bring them a point of view, and recommendations that they can react to, which again goes back to some of our comments earlier around how to more effectively manage our boss.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Brandon Smith
It’s very simple. You can Google “The Workplace Therapist.” That’s my handle and I’m the only one. So, you can go to TheWorkplaceTherapist.com. That’s where my blog is, podcasts, where you can get a copy of my book. Of course, it’s also available on Amazon and other places where you might purchase a book. And, again, the title of the book is The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Brandon Smith
I think, particularly right now in 2020, I would say there’s two. First, make sure you’re setting healthy boundaries because while people have been working at home and from home, we’re seeing a lot of boundary creep. So, making sure you’re setting healthy boundaries and communicating that. That’s really, really important.

The second thing that I would add, too, is making sure you’re finding ways to remind your boss and other leaders of the value that you’re providing. We’re not always visible, we’re not in front of them every day, and no one likes to self-promote but, at the same time, we’re going to need to make sure that our boss does recognize the value that we’re bringing so we don’t get passed over for that promotion or we don’t get looked over for new opportunities. So, those would be two tips to particularly apply today.

Pete Mockaitis
Brandon, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all the things that have hot sauce on them.

Brandon Smith
Thank you. Really enjoyed coming on the show. Thanks for having me. Thanks for all the great questions. I really enjoyed it.